12:33 GMT11 July 2020
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    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov recently said that Russia does not intend to trade the Kuril Islands for a peace treaty with Japan, but Moscow is still ready to abide by a decades-old bilateral document that lays the groundwork for signing the agreement and handing the Habomai and the Shikotan Islands over to Tokyo.

    Much stands in the way of resolving the territorial dispute over the islands that Russia calls the Kurils and the Japanese refer to as the Northern Territories, but the 1956 Soviet–Japanese joint declaration, particularly its Article 9, offers a solution.

    "In 1956, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev agreed to hand over Habomai and Shikotan as a gesture of good will and keeping in mind interests of the Japanese people, particularly fishermen. He also said that this was the maximum the Soviet Union would offer and Moscow refused to consider other territorial claims Japan had. Prime Minister Ichirō Hatoyama signed the declaration that was later ratified by both countries," analyst Anatoly Koshkin of the Moscow-based Center for Strategic Research told Sputnik.

    Japanese leadership at the time was serious about the deal, he added. Yet history took a different course. Tokyo later changed its stance on the Kurils, claiming all islands as its own.

    This change "was brought about by the Americans, specifically US State Secretary John Foster Dulles," Koshkin explained. "This is why the governments of Japan and the US bear responsibility for the fact that the 1956 Soviet–Japanese joint declaration was not implemented."

    Last month, Tokyo signaled that it was ready to try a new approach to resolving the decades-long dispute following an informal meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Sochi. Japanese authorities did not specify what the new strategy entailed.

    The nature of the Kuril islands
    © Sputnik / Sergey Krivosheyev
    The nature of the Kuril islands

    Some have said that Tokyo could reverse its stance and return to the 1956 declaration, but Koshkin maintained that it won't be easy.

    "The joint declaration was signed in a different era and its articles cannot be implemented without taking the changes that occurred into consideration. In fact, Russian authorities could withdraw from the Article 9 of the joint declaration, citing a fundamental change of circumstances as described by Article 62 of 1969 Vienna Convention on the law of treaties," he explained.

    The groundbreaking change, according to the analyst, took place when 200-mile exclusive economic zones were introduced in 1977.

    "If Russia hands over southern Kurils to Japan, it will lose 210,000 sq miles of water area rich in biological and energy resources. The Japanese understand this and take this into account when reviewing the Russian stance on the islands. Nevertheless, Russian leadership still agrees to conduct talks on the basis of the 1956 declaration," he added.

    Moscow's stance, the analyst noted, could change since the majority of Russians are against any territorial concessions to Japan.

    The first thing that Tokyo must do to keep the talks going is to accept territorial outcomes of World War II and acknowledge that Russia is the lawful owner of all Kuril Islands, the analyst observed. Japan should also renounce all claims to the islands.

    "When this happens, both countries cold sign a peace treaty and ratify it. When this is done, Russia could launch talks on Article 9 of the joint declaration. These negotiations would cover fishing in the 200-mile economic zone, development activities in the shelf sea area and military implications of the move," he explained.

    Possible military development of the area is particularly important if defense ties between Japan and the US are taken into account. Moscow is understandably concerned that US could build bases targeting Russia on the Kurils if they become part of Japan.


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    territorial claims, peace treaty, bilateral talks, territorial dispute, geopolitics, Vladimir Putin, Nikita Khrushchev, Japan, Russia, Kuril Islands
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