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Russia and Japan are again trying to negotiate the Kuriles. Why the dispute has not stopped for 73 years

The history of the conflict, the positions of countries and four variants of the development of events

Yuzhno-Kurilsk, Kunashir Island Photo of the Turbine Community
Yuzhno-Kurilsk, Kunashir Island Photo of the Turbine Community

On January 14, another round of talks between the Russian and Japanese foreign ministers took place in Moscow . Sergey Lavrov and Taro Kano discussed the issue of concluding a peace treaty, which countries have not been able to sign for 73 years. The key issue in it is to determine the ownership of the Kuril Islands.

Although this topic has been constantly discussed by politicians over the past decades, at the end of 2018 and the beginning of 2019, increased media attention was riveted on it. The reason for this was a few ambitious statements.

In September, Vladimir Putin, at a meeting of the Eastern Economic Forum, suggested that the Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe, conclude a peace treaty before the end of 2018. The president put forward the idea to conclude an agreement “without any preconditions”. The Japanese side refused to do so . In January, Abe told reporters that “he swore on the grave of his ancestors every day to make every effort” to promote dialogue and promised that “this year will be a historic turning point.”

Although the parties did not take any concrete decisions, the allegedly resolved issue of the transfer of the disputed Kuril Islands to Japan began to bediscussed on social networks . According to polls, the number of supporters of this idea in Russia has increased .

We talk about the history of the Kuril Islands, as well as the territorial dispute may end. It essentially consists in who owns the islands of Iturup, Kunashir, Shikotan and the Habomai range.

The history of the Kuril issue

The Kuril Islands and Sakhalin repeatedly passed from hand to hand, were divided into unequal parts, and even were jointly administered.

January 26, 1855 – Treatise on Trade and Frontiers (Simodo Treaty)

The first agreement between Russia and Japan. Established the border between the two countriesbetween the islands of Iturup and Urup. All that to the north, departed Russia; all that is south of Japan. Sakhalin was recognized as the territory of joint indivisibility of the two countries.

April 25, 1875 – St. Petersburg Treaty

Also known as the agreement “on the exchange of territories.” Russia was inferior to Japan all the Kuril Islands. In exchange, Japan waived its rights to Sakhalin.

August 23, 1905 – Portsmouth Peace Treaty

Russia was inferior to Japan Sakhalin south of the 50th parallel.

September 2, 1945 – Surrender Act

Japan signed the Surrender Act in World War II on the terms of the Potsdam Declaration . According to this document, Japanese sovereignty was limited to four main islands: Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu, Shikoku. By this time, Soviet troops had already occupied Sakhalin in full and all of the Kuril Islands.

Changing the borders between Russia and Japan in the Kuril Islands

January 26, 1946 – Memorandum of General MacArthur

During this period, Japan was officially occupied by the Allied forces and had no sovereignty. The government was subordinate to the Supreme Commander of the Allied forces. By the memorandum of 1946, General MacArthur expelledSakhalin and the Kuril Islands from Japan.

September 8, 1951 – San Francisco Peace Treaty

Japan renounced all rights to the Kuril Islands and to that part of Sakhalin Island, which it acquired under the Portsmouth Treaty. However, the contract does not say that she recognized them as part of the USSR.The USSR did not sign this agreement.

October 19, 1956 – Moscow Declaration

The USSR and Japan agreed on ending the state of war, restoring peace, and refused mutual claims on payments. The territorial issue is mentioned in the document only once.

[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]The USSR, meeting the wishes of Japan, agrees to the transfer of the islands of Habomai and the islands of Sikotan, however, that the actual transfer of these islands will be made after the conclusion of a peace treaty.[/perfectpullquote]
1956 USSR and Japan Joint Declaration
article 9

The status of other territories in the declaration is not indicated. At this stage, the Russian-Japanese territorial question stopped. Over the next 70 years, the parties made various attempts to intensify work on concluding a peace treaty, but it has not yet been concluded.

The interpretation of the 1956 declaration

The joint declaration of the USSR and Japan, despite the fact that it has a rather modest volume, can be interpreted in various ways. It is not clear what the compilers meant by “transfer of the islands”. It could well be a long-term lease, rather than a territorial concession.

The place of the peace treaty in the system of the existing ones is also not disclosed – should it supplement the Surrender Act, completely replace it, or fill in the gaps allowed in the San Francisco Peace Treaty. For example, in the case of Germany in 1945, no peace treaty was signed.

Position of Russia

Until the end of its existence, the USSR did not recognize the existence of a territorial dispute at all.

After 1993, the rhetoric of the Russian authorities eased – in the Tokyo Declaration, President Yeltsin had already agreed to hold talks on the issue of the ownership of the islands of Iturup, Kunashir, Shikotan and Habomai.

Russia recognizes the declaration of 1956, is ready to continue negotiations on its basis, but only if Japan recognizes Russian sovereignty over all the Kuril Islands.

Position of Japan

Japan believes that Iturup, Shikotan, Kunashir and Habomai are not part of the Kuril Islands. These territories in Tokyo are defined as the “Southern Kurile Islands”, which by the treatise of 1855 were assigned to the ancestral possessions of the empire.

The Japanese side insists that they did not refuse them, and the San Francisco Treaty only mentions the Kuril Islands themselves. In addition, this treaty of the USSR was not signed.

Thus, Japan considered the southern Kuril Islands its “northern territories” and enshrined this in the legislation.

How the situation can change: four scenarios

Russia will give way to Japan disputed islands

Despite the mood in society, the authorities officially deny such an outcome. The Russian leadership has repeatedly stated that the issue of sovereignty over the Kuril Islands is not being discussed .

Japan will give way to Russia disputed islands

Japan also consistently defends the view that the Kuriles are originally Japanese and illegally occupied. Since 1981, the Day of the Northern Territories has been celebrated in the country every year. It is not worth expecting that the country will voluntarily renounce its claims.

Russia and Japan will share the islands

The head of the Japanese Foreign Ministry, Taro Aso, in 2006 already offered acompromise solution to the problem. He proposed to divide in half the southern part of the disputed Kuril Islands. Immediately after the statement of the official in the ministry stated that they do not agree with him.

Nothing will happen

The most likely and expected outcome of the diplomatic efforts of both countries is to maintain the current status quo. Back in 2009, Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama promised to make progress “over the next six months or a year.” Both Russia and Japan have repeatedly made ambitious statements, promising to solve a long-standing problem as soon as possible, but after this they recognized that while this could not be done .

[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]To solve this issue in the current environment is not possible. The question is very difficult. The positions of the sides are opposite. There can be no backstage conversations here. And our Japanese partners have repeatedly stated that they do not set any deadlines for resolving this issue.[/perfectpullquote]
Sergey Lavrov
Russian Foreign Minister

New talks between Putin and Abe will take place in Russia on January 22. Two days before this, an action against the transfer of the Kuriles to Japan will take place in Moscow – the mayor’s office agreed it .

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