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Friday, 8 September, 2000, 14:09 GMT 15:09 UK
Espionage industry: Alive and kicking
Russian President Vladimir and  Japanese Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and their wives toast at Tokyo reception.
A friendly atmosphere during official talks
By BBC Russian affairs analyst Stephen Dalziel

The Russian authorities have described as provocative the arrest in Tokyo of a Japanese naval officer accused of spying for Moscow.

The arrest comes in the wake of a visit to Japan by the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, which marked an improvement in Russo-Japanese relations, but did not see Japan make the gains it had wanted in their long-running territorial dispute.

Anyone who thought that the end of the Cold War a decade or so ago would mean the end of espionage has received plenty of examples to show them that, Cold War or not, the world's states want to know more about each other.

The latest case, that of Lieutenant Commander Shigehiro Hagisaki of the Japanese Navy, merely underlines that the spy game is played out not only by Russia and the USA.

Work for spies

Indeed, it comes only a week after Moscow was involved in a spy row with Estonia, until 1991 a reluctant part of the Soviet Union.

As long as there are secrets which countries want to keep from each other, there will be work for spies.

Shigehiro Hagisaki: previous meetings with Russian officials
Shigehiro Hagisaki: Suspicion of leaking intelligence to Russians
The nature of this work has changed a little.

Economic and technology secrets are now regarded as the most important, whilst during the Cold War, much of the espionage effort of the USSR and the USA was aimed at determining the military plans of the other side.

Were they planning to attack each other? And what was the true state of the two sides' respective arsenals?

Ignoring the secrets

The irony of the situation was that much reliable information gleaned by spies was often ignored by their leaders - especially their military leaders - because it did not fit in with plans that had already been laid.

For example, it suited the Soviet General Staff to have their people believe that Nato represented a real threat of attack on their country, even though the spies on the ground suggested that Nato was not preparing an attack on Moscow.

What this latest case seems to show is that the espionage agencies often try to set their own agenda.

Japanese pique?

Of course, the timing of the announcement of Commander Hagisaki's arrest - three days after the visit of President Putin to Tokyo - may be pure coincidence.

Kuril islands
The dispute over the Kuril Islands is a key issue
But it is the case that, although the Russian side was pleased with the improvement in relations with Japan, which seemed to be the outcome of the visit, the Japanese had less cause for celebration.

Russia and Japan have yet to sign a formal peace treaty after the Second World War. The sticking point for Japan has always been the ownership of what they call the Northern Territories, a group of islands seized by the Soviet Union in 1945, and which the Russians call the Kuril Islands.

For Tokyo, a peace treaty is dependent on the islands being handed back. Mr Putin made it clear that that was not on his agenda.

Nevertheless, despite this obstacle the politicians reached some agreements, and a definite improvement in relations.

It is quite possible that such an outcome did not suit some in the Japanese security services, who saw it as an insult to their national pride.

What better way, from their point of view, to try to spoil the happy mood than by announcing a spy story?

What they fail to realise, though, is that an important change of the post-Cold War era is that such scandals are now seen as less shocking than was once the case.

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See also:

04 Sep 00 | Asia-Pacific
Putin rejects Kuril agreement with Japan
05 Sep 00 | Asia-Pacific
Putin takes a tumble
03 Sep 00 | Asia-Pacific
Putin confronts Kurils dispute
30 Apr 00 | Asia-Pacific
Japan gives priority to Russia
21 Apr 00 | Asia-Pacific
Russian navy fires on Japanese boat
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