Moscow regards the island chain as an integral part of the country after it gained control over the region in the final days of World War II following a deal with was agreed upon ahead of time with the Allies, while Tokyo's stance is that the four southern-most islands are part of what it calls the "Northern Territories" and were outside the ambit of the USSR's agreement with the Allies. Despite a promising 1956 joint declaration on this issue, the so-called "Kurils Question" has prevented the two countries from signing a World War II peace treaty and expanding their increasingly close relations to the strategic level.
Both Russia and Japan see one another as important partners in the emerging Multipolar World Order, with Moscow appreciating the island nation's interest in investing in its far-flung, underpopulated, but resource-rich Far East region while Tokyo thinks that cooperating with the Eurasian Great Power might eventually relieve its dependence on distant Mideast energy resources and possibly contribute to peacefully "balancing" its Chinese rival's rise. The political willpower is certainly present at the highest levels of each of them to prioritize the resolution of this issue, but the problem is that neither of them appears willing to compromise on their respective positions, and therein lays the crux of the problem.
President Putin even offered Prime Minister Abe the opportunity to sign a peace treaty without any preconditions during a press conference at last year's Eastern Economic Forum but the Japanese leader wasn't ready to do so at that time. Since the beginning of the year, however, two controversial developments have occurred. Last week it was reported that the special advisor to the Japanese Foreign Minister requested some vague form of American support for his country's peace efforts, and local media also reported that Tokyo wants to obtain the Russian islanders' approval prior to transferring their territory to Japan. Suffice to say, Russia sharply rebuked each of these reports and voiced concern that they were unnecessarily complicating the negotiation process.
As such, it still remains to be seen whether this long-running dispute will ever be resolved.
Andrew Korybko is joined by Ray Hosseini, half-Japanese & half-Iranian and currently resides in Tokyo, and Tim Kirby, an award-winning American radio host and political analyst in Russia.
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