While Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe vows to end a territorial dispute with Russia over a group of islands in the Pacific as soon as possible, Moscow says Tokyo is ‘distorting’ information on the talks to push its agenda.
Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono is in Moscow to discuss, with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov, a peace agreement between the two countries and the fate of the Kuril Islands – an archipelago located in the Pacific between Japan’s Hokkaido island and Russia’s Kamchatka peninsula.
The isles have been a subject of a simmering territorial dispute between the two neighbors for decades, but their fate was back in headlines after Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed in November to intensify talks about a peace treaty.
Moscow and Tokyo ended their World War II engagement without a formal peace treaty and that situation has not changed since, because of Tokyo’s long-standing claims to four Russian Kuril Islands, referred to in Japan as the ‘Northern Territories.’
Since then Tokyo apparently made statements that didn’t sit well with Moscow. The Russian Foreign Ministry summoned the Japanese ambassador this week to express concerns over what it called a “gross distortion” of the nature of recent agreements between the two nations’ leaders. The ministry particularly slammed the fact that some Japanese officials said the Russian residents of the Kuril Islands should be informed that some isles would be handed over to Japan, and called the Russian sovereignty over the archipelago “post-war occupation.”
Japan actively discusses a prospect of regaining sovereignty over the southernmost part of the archipelago, which includes the Shikotan Island as well as a group of smaller islets known as Habomai, after Putin and Abe said in November they would work on a peace treaty based on the 1956 declaration signed by Japan and the USSR. The document indeed envisages a such a sovereignty handover, however, its wording is pretty “vague”, as Putin once put it. Still, the declaration says such a move could be possible only after the two sides sign a peace treaty. Tokyo, however, maintains that the territorial dispute should be resolved first.
“Such statements cannot be seen as anything but an attempt to … whip up tensions around the peace treaty issue and force the other side to accept [Japan’s] own plan of resolving the matter,” the foreign ministry’s statement said, apparently referring to Japan’s speculations about Moscow allegedly agreeing to hand over some of the disputed islands.
Russia’s position on the issue remains unchanged, the ministry said, adding that a peace treaty between the two nations should be based on “Japan’s unconditional and full recognition of the results of the World War II, including Russia’s sovereignty over the Kuril Islands.”
In early January, Abe announced he was determined to “put an end” to the territorial dispute and sign a peace treaty with Russia in 2019.
Meanwhile, the Russian lawmakers are apparently equally determined to secure the islands’ status as part of the Russian territory. On Thursday, one of the MPs introduced a bill to the Russian State Duma that would literally make any official decision or legal document on giving up the Kuril Islands null and void.
“Any legal acts that envisage giving away the territory of the Kuril Islands are not to be ratified, published, put into force or implemented,” the draft legislation says. The bill comes in response to an amendment passed by the Japanese parliament in summer 2018, which designated the Kuril Islands a part of the Japanese territory and called on the Japanese officials to make efforts to “return” them, Sergey Ivanov, the author of the bill and a member of the opposition Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, explained.
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