Russia Planned To Attack Japan in 2021: Leaked FSB Letters

Russia was preparing to attack Japan in the summer of 2021, months before President Vladimir Putin launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, an email featuring a letter from a whistleblower at Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB), shared with Newsweek, reveals.

The email, dated March 17, was sent by the agent, dubbed the Wind of Change, to Vladimir Osechkin, a Russian human-rights activist who runs the anti-corruption website, and is now exiled in France.

The FSB agent writes regular dispatches to Osechkin, revealing the anger and discontent inside the service over the war that began when Putin invaded neighboring Ukraine on February 24.

Igor Sushko, the executive director of the Wind of Change Research Group, a Washington-based non-profit organization, has been translating the correspondence from Russian to English since it began on March 4. He has shared all the emails in full to Newsweek, including the March 17 brief.

A letter authored by the whistleblower, and published by Osechkin, has been analyzed by Christo Grozev, an expert on the FSB. He said he had shown the letter "to two actual (current or former) FSB contacts" who had "no doubt it was written by a colleague."

Russian President Vladimir Putin
This picture shows Russian President Vladimir Putin superimposed onto an image of Japan. Russia was preparing to attack Japan in August 2021, according to leaked emails from a whistleblower at Russia's Federal Security Service. Getty Images/Newsweek

Military Conflict

In August 2021, Russia was "quite seriously preparing for a localized military conflict with Japan," the agent said in an email to Osechkin in March.

The FSB agent suggested that Russia instead chose to invade Ukraine months later.

"Confidence that the countries would enter the stage of acute confrontation and even war was high. Why Ukraine was chosen for war in the end [the scenario was not changed much] is for others to answer," they wrote.

The whistleblower detailed movements of electronic warfare helicopters targeting Japan, while Russia's propaganda machine was also initiated, with a huge push to label Japanese as "Nazis" and "fascists."

Kuril Islands

A peace treaty formally ending World War II has never been signed by Russia and Japan, largely because of disputes over a group of islands claimed by Japan, but occupied by Russia.

The Kunashiri, Etorofu, Shikotan and Habomai islands of the Kuril Island chain were seized by the USSR at the end of World War II. Tokyo claims the islands as its "Northern Territories" and the issue has strained relations between Russia and Japan for decades.

According to the FSB agent, a "key stumbling block" between Moscow and Tokyo is the Kuril Islands.

Because of their location between the large Japanese island of Hokkaido and Russia's Kamchatka Peninsula, the islands offer a number of military and political benefits.

"For Japan, there is a cornerstone of its modern geopolitics here: its status as a World War II loser still prevents the Japanese from having an official military force, a foreign intelligence service and a number of other things. For the Land of the Rising Sun, the return of the Kuril Islands would actually mean a revision [or even cancellation] of its postwar status," they wrote.

Meanwhile, for Moscow, the islands are "a bargaining chip," the whistleblower continued.

"The Heavenly Kingdom (China) takes any attempted revisions to the postwar agreements very negatively, and a potential victory for Tokyo in the dispute over the Kurils is unacceptable to Beijing. It is so unacceptable that China would easily complicate Russia's life for making such a 'gift.'"

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Shinzo Abe
Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and then-Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, left, shake hands during a press conference at the Kremlin in Moscow on January 22, 2019. Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

The whistleblower noted that former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was at the time already placing a strong emphasis on both trying to "negotiate" with Russia over the Kuril Islands issue and reforming the country's intelligence service.

"Historically, Japan's military intelligence has always been at a high level, but after the defeat in World War II it was simply abolished at the behest of the victors," they wrote.


In August 2021, the FSB declassified graphic information about how Soviet citizens were tortured by Japanese special services during World War II.

The FSB whistleblower said that the service was tasked with launching an "information campaign against Japan in Russian society."

"[It happened] abruptly, suddenly and almost unexpectedly," they wrote.

Declassified material included data from the interrogation of Otozo Yamada, a general in the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II.

"Initially, as early as August 8, the Russian mass media were rather stingy in their comments on the news: they claimed that Japan had been preparing for war with the USSR since 1938, plans of the attack were being hatched, diversions were made, etc," the whistleblower wrote.

"But on August 16, the Russian media literally exploded at the same time, discussing the declassified documents in a completely different tone: The Japanese allegedly conducted terrible biological experiments on Soviet prisoners, and treated Soviet prisoners extremely badly. The details of the plague lice that were used to torture prisoners were scrawled all over the place. Russia Today, the main mouthpiece of international propaganda, also joined in."

The whistleblower in their email included multiple links from pro-Kremlin media outlets on the matter, including one titled "How the USSR saved the world from the biological war that Japan was preparing" and another called "Evidence of Japan's preparations for war with the USSR declassified."

An RBC report, published on August 20, 2021, citing the declassified FSB documents, states that experiments were carried out on prisoners at a concentration camp in the Harbin region, and that during World War II, "the Japanese tested bacteriological weapons and 'new chemical poisonous substances' on them."

Previously classified material was also published by the FSB in August 2021, which the service said showed Japan planned to use a bacteriological bomb in 1944.

"The FSB had even declassified in a timely manner at the right time when this push was was classified this entire time and then [Russia] declassified it right when all of this buildup was happening against Japan, and preparing the Russian population to start believing that Japanese are fascists," Sushko told Newsweek.

"They sort of swapped out Japan for Ukraine," he added. "And both of them right, they're just insane. Just take the things that Russia was considering [before] attacking Japan, it's insane, as is the fact that Russia attacked Ukraine is insane. It's insanity."

The whistleblower said there was an "active spin in the Russian information space" against Japan in the summer of 2021.

"The bet was placed on the fact that the Japanese specialized in brutal biological experiments, showed inhumanity, and had a disposition for Nazism. And they should have demilitarized after the war, but they violate these regulations, creating risks for Russia," they wrote.

"But on the whole, war was inevitable for Russia due to the maniacal desire for war by the leadership…And now the bulk of the combat-ready units from that direction have been redeployed to Ukraine," the whistleblower added.

Newsweek has contacted the foreign ministries of Russia and Japan for comment.