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Admiral Togo and Ukraine

Frederick Lauritzen

7th October 2022


In Venice to say ‘cool’ one says ‘che togo’. This is a remarkable tribute to an admiral of the Japanese fleet, Tōgō Heihachirō (1848-1934). He has become proverbial in Venetian dialect because of the Russo-Japanese war 1904-1905. On this occasion, the Russian Baltic fleet circumnavigated the world to reach Japan and found itself exhausted even before starting the war. Togo, as commander in chief of the combined forces, defeated the Russian fleet in 1904 at Port Arthur and then the Baltic fleet at the Battle of Tsushima on May 27th-28th, 1905.


The war was important since it marked the beginning of Japanese expansion in the East. Korea became Japanese that year and remained so until 1945. 


The peace treatise between Russia and Japan was supervised by Theodore Roosevelt. In the Natural History Museum in New York one can see the fresco showing the signature of the peace treaty. It was then that the USA obtained Panama. 

Japan and Russia have had a border dispute over the Kuril Islands. They were offered to the Soviet Union at the Yalta conference on condition that the Soviet Union would declare war on the Japanese Empire. It declared war and invaded the Southern Kuril Islands on August 18th-31st, 1945. In 1946, it expelled the entire Japanese population from the islands.


On October 7th 2022, by resolution 2662-IX, the Verkhovna Rada (Ukrainian Parliament) has voted to declare the southern Kuril Islands (Habomai and Shikotan Islands) as unlawfully occupied territory belonging to Japan. 

It is an intriguing psychological move. It will sound bizarre in the West and to most NATO allies. However, it will have resonance in Finland. The last time Japan owned the Kuril Islands, Finland owned the city of Vyborg (Viipuri, in Finnish). The Finnish independence movement took strength in the aftermath of the Russo-Japanese war of 1905. Many areas in Russia had uprisings and resulted in the Tsar creating a parliament (the Duma) and offering other concessions. Poland was also part of the Russian empire at the time and remembers the uprising of 1905.

The Russian military defeat on the battlefield resulted in revolution and reform. 


The Ukrainian parliament is reminding countries which were formally subject to Russia, and which border with Russia today, that the future is the revolution of 1905. 


The year of 1905 was so immense in the public mind that it became proverbial even in the Venetian dialect and remains so even today: che Togo!

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