Russia Champions 'Pioneering' Solution by Cooperating With Japan in Kurils

© Sputnik / Ekaterina ChesnokovaYuzhno-Kurilsk village on Kunashir Island
Yuzhno-Kurilsk village on Kunashir Island - Sputnik International
Russia and Japan are set to flesh out the initiative on conducting joint activities on the contested islands, which Moscow calls the Kurils and Tokyo refers to as the Northern Territories, taking both countries into uncharted waters as this is unprecedented, political analyst Valery Kistanov told Sputnik.

"Russia is a pioneer in this respect. Never before has anyone anywhere in the world reached an agreement on joint economic activities on disputed territories," the analyst said.

The deal was reached during the visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin to Japan on December 15-16, 2016.

A village in Yuzhno-Kurilsk on Kunashir Island of the Greater Kuril Ridge - Sputnik International
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Kistanov, the Director of the Center for Japanese Studies at the Institute of the Far East, offered several examples to prove his point, citing among other things the "fiercest dispute" over the islands known as Diaoyu in China and Senkaku in Japan. Tokyo "has administered the islands, while Beijing demands that they be returned, but there is no talk of joint activities there," he said.

Other cases in point include the Liancourt Rocks, which South Korea refers to as Dokdo or Tokto and Japan calls Takeshima. Seoul controls the two islets and 35 smaller rocks located in the Sea of Japan in an area said to be rich in fish and natural gas. Japan claims the islands as its own.

The analyst also mentioned Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands, both British Overseas Territories. The former has been a major point of contention in the United Kingdom's relations with Spain, while the latter has been at the heart of a dispute between Great Britain and Argentina.

"As a result, Russia and Japan will be ahead of the curve should they succeed in launching joint economic projects in the Kuril Islands," Kistanov said.  

A lighthouse at the furthest end of the Yuzhno-Kurilsky cape on the Pacific coast on Kunashir Island of the Greater Kuril Ridge. - Sputnik International
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The political analyst pointed out that this initiative could present certain challenges for Russia.

"If we move forward [with the deal], wouldn't we partially give up our sovereignty over these islands? Perhaps, this is what Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is counting on," he said. "I've seen reports saying that Southern Kuril Islands and the island of Iturup should be linked with Hokkaido [the northernmost of Japan's main islands] not only via maritime, but also aerial routes so that it would be easier for the Japanese to get there. This gives rise to a question of whether this will be considered an international flight. Otherwise, would it be treated as a Russian or a Japanese domestic flight?"

The plane of Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe at Pulkovo Airport, St. Petersburg - Sputnik International
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Kistanov said that both countries are making progress when it comes to the disputed islands, but it remains to be seen who will really benefit from these agreements.  

Vitaly Shvydko, who heads the Japanese studies section at the Institute of World Economy and International Relations of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said that Japan has been divided over Abe's approach to the issue.

"Some experts in Japan say that [his strategy] delays the resolution of the territorial dispute. Others have spoken in favor of fostering an atmosphere of trust with Russia. There are those who urge to freeze the issue and leave it to future generations," he said. "It is natural that there optimists and pessimists. The coming months will show whether there is progress with regard to cooperation on the Southern Kuril Islands or not. At the moment both parties have to focus on reaching an concensus on numerous legal issues."

Russia and Japan have been locked in a dispute over the Kuril Islands since the end of World War II.

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