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Why There's More to Russia-Japan Relations Than Kuril Islands

© Sputnik / Alexander Liskin / Go to the photo bankRocks off Shikotan Island, aka Spanberg or Sikotan, in the Kurils
Rocks off Shikotan Island, aka Spanberg or Sikotan, in the Kurils - Sputnik International
Russian and Japanese diplomats are scheduled to meet on Wednesday to work on a peace treaty between the two countries. Although no one expects quick progress on the decades-old territorial dispute, there is a lot more to relations between Moscow and Tokyo than the Kuril Islands.

State Duma Chairman Sergei Naryshkin echoed this sentiment when he said that cooperation between two countries was inevitable.

"I believe that Russia and Japan fully understand that there is no alternative to fostering cooperation between our nations," he noted while on a visit to Japan. Both countries have "built up mutual trust" by developing ties and removing artificial barriers that stand in the way of a fruitful relationship.

During his visit, Naryshkin also attended the opening ceremony of an annual festival of Russian culture. This year the event marked six decades of diplomatic relations between Russia and Japan that were restored on October 19, 1956.

© Sputnik / Sergey Krivosheyev / Go to the photo bankKuril islands
Kuril islands - Sputnik International
Kuril islands

That year, the Soviet Union also pledged to transfer the islands of Shikotan and the Habomai to Japan once both nations signsigned a peace treaty. This offer was off the table by 1960 when the United States and Japan amended the 1952 Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security. The pact paved the way for America's continued military presence in the island state that the Soviet Union viewed as a threat to its security.

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Russia's current leadership abides by the 1956 Soviet–Japanese joint declaration, as recently stated by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

Many hope that upcoming talks between delegations headed by Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov and Japan's former envoy to Russia Chikahito Harada will be fruitful, but few expect a breakthrough.

"Both sides disagree sharply" on the fate of the Kuril Islands that Tokyo refers to as the Northern Territories, said Valery Kistanov, who heads the Center for Japanese Studies at the Institute of Far Eastern Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

"It's hard for me to imagine that Japan has agreed to return to the 1956 Declaration and restrict its territorial claims to two islands. It is equally hard to imagine that Russia has accommodated Japan's wishes to hand over all four islands," he noted.

© Sputnik / Sergey Krasnouhov / Go to the photo bankKuril Islands
Kuril Islands - Sputnik International
Kuril Islands

This does not mean that there are no positive developments. Kistanov views the fact that the talks have been rebooted as a positive sign that offers a chance for a profound discussion on the issue.

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"It would have been worse if both countries did not talk at all, like it was in the times of Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko, who said that there was no such issue [as the territorial dispute]. This stance had created a chilling atmosphere between the two countries," the analyst explained.
Although both countries appear not be ready to settle the territorial dispute, there is ample room for cooperation.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe "is not naive to expect that the dispute will be resolved soon. Nevertheless, he is ready to promote Japanese investment in Russia, so that Tokyo could compete with Beijing," analyst Alexander Baunov said.

"Japan is a country that has no friends in its own region. Its neighbors, major regional powers like China and South Korea, treat it with suspicion. This is why relations with Russia are extremely important for Japan," a senior associate at the Carnegie Moscow Center added.

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