On July 8, Japan’s former prime minister, Shinzo Abe, died after being shot at a campaign event in the city of Nara.
Police arrested the alleged killer, 41-year-old Tetsuya Yamagami, after he reportedly shot Abe with a homemade gun.
Yamagami told the police he did not hold a “political grudge” against Abe, but was rather motivated by grievances against a religious group he alleged Abe was connected to, Japan’s Asahi Shimbun newspaper reported.
But on Russian state TV, sinologist Nikolai Vavilov declared that the United States was behind Abe’s assassination. Vavilov provided no evidence but claimed that in the East, “political assassinations are usually political suicides” carried out through some form of “self-immolation.” He said people do not express their political positions by killing others.
He speculated that Abe was killed because Japan did not want to become a base for “war against China” and for “Taiwan operations,” adding the United States is “putting maximum pressure on the Japanese government.”
“What is happening now is a political assassination, sewn with white thread, actually carried out by the hands of the Americans, to show, most importantly, to other leaders, who is next,” Vavilov said on "60 Minutes," the Rossiya 1 channel’s prime time talk show.
That claim is false.
The alleged killer’s grudge was reportedly personal in nature. Neither Yamagami nor his motives had any U.S. connection. Politically, Abe’s assertive posture rankled China, not the United States.
Since Abe’s death, more has become known about what inspired the killing. Yamagami told investigators that the motive for the killing was the hardship his family experienced because of a religious group, later identified as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (Unification Church).
“My family joined that religion, and our life became harder after donating money to the organization,” Yamagami told police, Japan’s Asahi Shimbun reported, citing anonymous sources.
“I had wanted to target the top official of the organization, but it was difficult," the paper reported. "So, I took aim at Abe since I believed that he was tied (to the organization). I wanted to kill him.”
On July 11, the Unification Church, whose followers are popularly known as “Moonies,” confirmed Yamagami’s mother is a member.
Yamagami told investigators that Abe’s grandfather, former Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi, had "contributed to the expansion of (the religious group)."
That motivated him to kill Kishi's grandson, former Prime Minister Abe, CNN reported, citing Japanese broadcaster NHK.
However, a Unification Church spokesperson said that neither Abe nor Yamagami were members.
Yamagami was a forklift operator. He left the job in April, saying he suffered from poor health. He lived in an apartment roughly three kilometers from the site of the shooting. Other homemade guns and explosives were reportedly found at his apartment.
A neighbor described hearing “a sound similar to one using a saw to cut a tree” at Yamagami’s apartment at night, The Asahi Shimbun reported.
Abe was generally described as pro-American conservative and a Japanese nationalist. For example, Reuters reported in July 2007 that Abe’s “core vision of making Japan more assertive on security issues enjoyed American support.”
President Joe Biden called Abe’s murder “a tragedy for Japan and for all who knew him.”
Taiwan’s government said, “Abe spared no effort to push for the progress of Taiwan-Japan relations for many years.”
A long-standing goal of Abe was to bolster the capabilities and scope of operations of Japan’s military. Japan’s pacifist constitution, drafted by the United States after World War II, forbids the country from making war.
Abe unsuccessfully tried to amend the national charter “to clarify the legal status” of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces and ramp up the role of the military in what he called Japan’s “most severe” security environment “in post-war history.”
However, he succeeded in boosting military spending and the scope of permissible military action.
In 2014, Abe announced his government had reinterpreted Article IX of Japan’s constitution, which renounces war as a sovereign right, to allow Japan’s Self-Defense Forces to use military action to protect its allies. That gave Japanese forces a legal basis to fight overseas for the first time since World War II.
The United States welcomed that move.
"Japan has ... every right to equip themselves in the way they deem necessary," then State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said at the time. "We encourage them to do that in a transparent manner, and we remain in touch with them about these important issues."
A United States Naval Institute (USNI) analysis published by in 2015 noted that collective self-defense “allows for far greater operational latitude when real-world contingencies might require Japan to operate forward alongside its allies, mainly the United States.“ It also tied Japan’s changing defense posture to a territorial dispute with China.
“Japan’s more proactive strategy is undoubtedly a reactive posture to the ongoing Senkaku Islands dispute with the People’s Republic of China (PRC), the PRC Air Defense Identification Zone in the East China Sea, and the People’s Liberation Army-Navy’s aggression toward Vietnam and the Philippines. Minimal protection of national borders and interests is no longer an effective defense of Japan,” wrote the USNI report’s author, then-Lt.j.g. Sean Quirk.
Abe had called Russia’s invasion of Ukraine an “unforgivable act…and a serious challenge to the international order,” and suggested that Japan should consider hosting U.S. nuclear weapons.
Japan’s current prime minister, Fumio Kishida, rejected that suggestion, which sparked anger in Beijing.
Still, top Russian officials, including President Vladimir Putin, condemned Abe’s death.
The website of Kremlin-friendly Tsargrad TV also released an article on July 8 titled, "Execution of Shinzo Abe: US involvement – one of the first versions."
That highly speculative article questions "the role of the United States in the tragedy," and asks, "What political actions by Shinzo Abe could have angered the suspect?"
It points to an interview Abe gave The Economist in May, in which he said:
“Before the invasion, when they had surrounded Ukraine, it might have been possible [to avoid war]. If [Ukrainian president Volodymyr] Zelenskyy could have been made to promise that his country will not join NATO, or made to grant a high degree of autonomy to the two enclaves in the east. I understand this would be hard to do – perhaps an American leader could have done it. But of course [Zelenskyy] would refuse.”
But Abe then said:
“However, now that we are here, I think the only way forward is to stand with Ukraine and thoroughly oppose Russia’s aggression. That is the way to protect the international order that we have created since the end of World War II."
The other three panelists who appeared on the "60 Minutes" program with sinologist Vavilov did not challenge his claim that "Americans" had killed Abe.
In addition, contrary to Vavilov’s claims that the U.S. pressured Japan into actively opposing China, it was Abe who pushed the United States to end its ambiguity over the defense of Taiwan in the event of a Chinese invasion.
“The policy of ambiguity worked extremely well as long as the U.S. was strong enough to maintain it, and as long as China was far inferior to the U.S. in military power,” Abe wrote this past April. “But those days are over. The U.S. policy of ambiguity toward Taiwan is now fostering instability in the Indo-Pacific region, by encouraging China to underestimate U.S. resolve, while making the government in Taipei unnecessarily anxious.
“Given the change in circumstances since the policy of strategic ambiguity was adopted, the U.S. should issue a statement that is not open to misinterpretation or multiple interpretations. The time has come for the U.S. to make clear that it will defend Taiwan against any attempted Chinese invasion.”
Just one day before Abe’s death, China’s state-run CGTN posted a video titled “Warmonger and warmonger: Japan is militarizing, America is helping.”
Some Chinese nationalists celebrated Abe’s murder on social media, VOA’s China branch reported.
Analysts told The South China Morning Post those expressions of radical Chinese nationalism had “damaged China’s image internationally.”
Meantime, Reuters reported that some users on social media have also spread the unsupported claim that Abe was killed for failing to implement World Economic Forum (WEF) orders regarding COVID-19 vaccine mandates.