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'I don't have answer to how long this war will last,' Japan's ambassador Kuninori Matsuda

'I don't have answer to how long this war will last,' Japan's ambassador Kuninori Matsuda Ambassador of Japan, Kuninori Matsuda (All photos: Vitalii Nosach/RBC-Ukraine)

Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Japan to Ukraine Kuninori Matsuda in an interview with RBC-Ukraine shares his insights about the end of the Russia-Ukraine war, anti-Russian sanctions, China's role, reforms and the fight against corruption, and bilateral relations between Ukraine and Japan.

From the first day of the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, another neighbor of Russia, Japan, has been closely monitoring the situation. According to the country's Prime Minister, Fumio Kishida, what is happening in Ukraine could happen to Japan and the Far East at any moment. Indeed, the region has several potential hotspots, including Korea, Taiwan, disputed islands around China, and more. Kishida visited Kyiv in March of this year, parallel to the visit of Chinese leader Xi Jinping to Moscow – a parallel that caught the attention of almost all global media.

While Japan cannot provide lethal weapons to Ukraine according to its legislation, it is actively assisting: multibillion-dollar support includes non-lethal military aid, demining, energy, agro-industrial complex, humanitarian aid, and more. In October, Kyiv and Tokyo began negotiations on security guarantees for Ukraine.

Посол Японії Мацуда Кунінорі: Я не маю чіткої відповіді, як довго триватиме ця війна

Additionally, Japan currently chairs the Group of Seven (G7), and its ambassador, Matsuda Kuninori, heads the group of G7 ambassadors in Kyiv. Therefore, RBC-Ukraine spoke with Matsuda not only about regional issues but also about Ukraine's internal reforms, which the ambassador evaluated very positively. "Ukrainians are fighting two wars simultaneously, against Russia and all internal problems," says Matsuda.

Ukraine's readiness for shelling

"When it comes to the preparation on the Ukraine side, in comparison with last year, this year the Ukrainian government and society as well as the Ukrainian private sector have been much better prepared. At the same time, the international communities and partner countries, Japan included, also have much better coordination," says the ambassador.

According to him, partner countries, including the G7, are assisting Ukraine in three directions of preparation for shelling: providing air defense systems, generators and transformers, as well as fortifying infrastructure.

End of war and negotiations

"By no means should the international community put pressure on Ukraine. We are ready to continue to support Ukraine as long as it takes. If Ukraine comes to a decision about how and when to start negotiations, we will respect Ukraine's decision," says Matsuda. Japan, however, will be ready to support Ukraine as much as needed.

At the same time, the ambassador acknowledged that he cannot predict how long the Russo-Ukrainian war may last.

"If you asked me whether it is possible to have peaceful relations between Russia and Ukraine, I do hope that after the war the relations will improve. But we should keep in mind that Ukraine is a victim and Ukraine is attacked without any provocation. Therefore, I fully support Ukraine's idea of membership in NATO," added Matsuda. Until Ukraine joins NATO, it will need a network of bilateral security guarantees.

Japanese aid to Ukraine

The total amount of Japanese assistance to Ukraine is $7.6 billion. Its main directions are demining and debris removal, infrastructure restoration, support for the agro-industrial complex, and assistance in implementing reforms. In addition, Japan provides Ukraine with non-lethal military aid, such as drones and equipment for personnel.

When asked about the possibility of providing lethal aid to Ukraine, ambassador Matsuda replied that a working group is currently addressing this issue, and he does not want to speculate on the outcome of its work.

Technology exchange

"Sometimes I'm pleasantly surprised to see how Ukraine is advanced in digitalization of everyday life, including the administration. Therefore, IT is definitely one of very promising areas which both Japan and Ukraine should focus on in our cooperations," said the Japanese ambassador, highlighting Diia (Ukrainian web-portal of e-governance) in particular.

According to Matsuda, Japanese-Ukrainian cooperation in the fields of medicine and energy is also of interest, and Japan is interested in Ukraine's experience in developing drones.

Посол Японії Мацуда Кунінорі: Я не маю чіткої відповіді, як довго триватиме ця війна

China's role in the war

"Regarding the influence of the war on the East Asian region, as I mentioned earlier, what is happening in Ukraine could anytime happen to other regions, including East Asia," said ambassador Matsuda. In his opinion, China, as Russia's neighbor and a permanent member of the UN Security Council, can and should make more efforts to end the war.

According to the ambassador, the prolongation of the war is disadvantageous to China, as it derives economic benefits from a stable international situation.

Reforms in Ukraine

"Usually during the war time, a government and society have their hands so much tied up with the imminent task, that is, defending their country and society and winning the war. This is why we are so impressed by the fact that the Ukrainian leadership, supported by the civil society, continues to work on all the related reforms," says the Japanese ambassador.

According to him, Ukraine's good results in combating corruption and other reforms help military efforts because it is easier for partner countries to explain to their taxpayers why Ukraine deserves further support.

Ambassador Matsuda specifically highlighted the appointment of new heads of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau (NABU) and Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor's Office (SAPO), as well as efforts to combat oligarchs.

"A friend of mine in the diplomatic circle returned to the Ukrainian service three times. He told me: Matsuda-san, believe me, 15 years ago, 10 years ago, the situation was much, much worse. And this time, I am very pleased to see that fight against corruption is making progress with concrete achievements. Ukraine is on the right path," concluded the Japanese ambassador.