Last week, it was Russian bombers flying circles around Japan, doing practice runs on Japanese air defense radars. This week? A friendly visit by the Russian Navy, of course. Of course!

A Russian Pacific Fleet’s task force led by the missile cruiser Varyag will arrive on Sunday to Japan on a five-day friendly visit, the fleet’s spokesman said.

The task force, which also includes the Irkut tanker and a salvage tugboat, will arrive at the port of Maizuru during the first leg of its Pacific tour with visits to Japan, the United States and Canada.

“At the end of the visit to Maizuru the Russian task force will take part in a joint search and rescue exercise with Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force,” Capt. 1st Rank Roman Martov said.

After the visit to Japan, Varyag will set sail to U.S. Mariana Islands to hold the Pacific Eagle-2011 exercise with the U.S. Navy. (Link)

I’m at a loss for words for what the Russians are thinking. In the past two years, Russia has made a point of antagonizing Japan, including chest-pounding over the southern Kurils/Northern Territories and flying a complete circle around the country with nuclear-capable bombers. Now it is time for a fraternal visit! I’m sure the JMSDF at Maizuru is just thrilled.

It’s difficult to understand why the Japanese agreed to such a visit. The only explanation is that they tried to politely refuse in the Japanese way, but the Russians didn’t take the hint. Example:

Russian Officer: Say Takeshi, Varyag is headed to the Pacific to exercise with the Americans. Is it alright if we make a stop in Japan?

Japanese Naval Attache: (seething) Well, that could be difficult to arrange properly.

(At this point, if you’re Japanese, you’re supposed to take the hint and suddenly remember that you have something else to do that day and let the other person off the hook.)

Russian Officer: I’m sure we could iron out all the problems. Great, see you at the end of September!

Japanese Naval Attache:

Or maybe the Russians know very well how awkward this visit is, and just don’t give a damn.

In somewhat related news, I’ve actually been on the Varyag. I got the media tour when she came to San Francisco last year. My impressions? It’s a big, impressive ship: those SS-N-12 missile canisters are even bigger when you stand next to them.

Our hosts were nice enough — we got a nice tour of the ship. It’s not as cramped as one would think (at least officer country wasn’t.) In the recreation room we were served apple juice and a nice assortment of smoked meats and Russian rye bread.

The rec room even had a cockatiel in it.

But if you looked closely, there was a lot about the ship that seemed off. For one thing, the helicopter was hidden away. Also, although the ship was freshly painted and had allegedly gone through a complete overhaul, it was obvious that they had painted over some pretty serious metal corrosion on the main deck. In many places — such as the surface to air missile silo hatches — the paint seemed to be applied in a way that the moving parts were painted shut.

The ship was even accompanied by a salvage tug, which to my knowledge was kept out of the public eye and didn’t even cross under the Golden Gate. The phrase “Potemkin village” came to mind.

I also wouldn’t be surprised if they had a new bird. The poor thing was right next to the door and exposed to some pretty bad lubricant fumes. As my mother used to say: かわいそう。

More pics from Varyag here.

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A contributor and editor at the blog War Is Boring, Kyle Mizokami started Japan Security Watch in 2010 to further understand Japan's defenses and security policy.
Kyle Mizokami has 596 post(s) on Japan Security Watch