The Kuril Islands dispute, also known in Japan as the Northern Territories dispute, is a disagreement between Japan and Russia and also some individuals of the Ainu people over sovereignty of the four southernmost Kuril Islands. The Kuril Islands is a chain of islands that stretch between the Japanese island of Hokkaido at the southern end and the Russian Kamchatka Peninsula at the northern end. The islands separate the Sea of Okhotsk from the Pacific Ocean. The four disputed islands, like other islands in the Kuril chain that are not in dispute, were annexed by the Soviet Union following the Kuril Islands landing operation at the end of World War II. The disputed islands are under Russian administration as the South Kuril District of the Sakhalin Oblast (Сахалинская область, Sakhalinskaya oblast). They are claimed by Japan, which refers to them as its Northern Territories or Southern Chishima, and considers them part of the Nemuro Subprefecture of Hokkaido Prefecture.
The islands in dispute are:
- Iturup (Russian: Итуруп)—Etorofu Island (Japanese: 択捉島, Etorofu-tō)
- Kunashir (Russian: Кунашир)—Kunashiri Island (Japanese: 国後島, Kunashiri-tō)
- Shikotan (Russian: Шикотан)—Shikotan Island (Japanese: 色丹島, Shikotan-tō)
- Habomai Islands (Russian: острова Хабомаи ostrova Khabomai)—Habomai Islands (Japanese: 歯舞群島, Habomai-guntō)
The San Francisco Peace Treaty, signed between the Allies and Japan in 1951, states that Japan must give up “all right, title and claim to the Kuril Islands”, but it also does not recognize the Soviet Union’s sovereignty over them.Japan claims that at least some of the disputed islands are not a part of the Kuril Islands, and thus are not covered by the treaty. Russia maintains that the Soviet Union’s sovereignty over the islands was recognized in post-war agreements. Japan and the Soviet Union ended their formal state of war with the Soviet–Japanese Joint Declaration of 1956, but did not resolve the territorial dispute. During talks leading to the joint declaration, the Soviet Union offered Japan the two smaller islands of Shikotan and the Habomai Islands in exchange for Japan renouncing all claims to the two bigger islands of Iturup and Kunashir, but Japan refused the offer after pressure from the US.
The first Russo-Japanese agreement to deal with the status of Sakhalin and the Kuril Islands was the 1855 Treaty of Shimoda, which first established official relations between Russia and Japan. Article 2 of the Treaty of Shimoda, which provided for an agreement on borders, states “Henceforth the borders between Russia and Japan will pass between the islands Iturup (Etorofu) and Urup (Uruppu). The whole island of Iturup belongs to Japan and the whole island Urup and the other Kuril Islands to the north constitute possessions of Russia”. The islands of Kunashiri, Shikotan and the Habomai Islands, that all lie to the south of Iturup, are not explicitly mentioned in the treaty and were understood at the time to be a non-disputed part of Japan. The treaty also specified that the island of Sakhalin/Karafuto would remain un-partitioned between Russia and Japan, as in the past.
In the 1875 Treaty of Saint Petersburg Russia and Japan agreed that Japan would give up all rights to Sakhalin in exchange for Russia giving up all rights to the Kuril Islands in favor of Japan. However, a controversy remains as to what constitutes the Kuril islands, due to translation discrepancies of the French official text of that treaty.
Although Japan occupied parts of Russia’s Far East during the Russian Civil War following the October Revolution, Japan did not formally annex any of these territories and they were vacated by Japan by the mid-1920s.
After the Battles of Khalkhin Gol ended the Japanese–Soviet Border War in 1939 and before the USSR declared war on Japan (Manchurian Strategic Offensive Operation) on August 8, 1945, there was practically no hostile activity between the USSR and the Empire of Japan. Although Japan was a main ally of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany, with which USSR was at war. Millions of Soviet and Japanese soldiers were facing each other along the border. The Soviet–Japanese Neutrality Pact was signed in Moscow on April 13, 1941 and became effective on April 25, but was renounced by the Soviet Union on 5 April 1945, as in accordance with the Pact itself, it remains relevant for 5 years and automatically renews for the next 5 years if any of the countries does not renounce the Pact a year before the date of its expiry. So, the USSR used its legal right and renounced the Pact[dubious ].
The Soviet operation to occupy the Kuril Islands took place between August 18 and September 3. Japanese inhabitants were repatriated two years later. The United States had helped the preparation of the Soviet invasion through Project Hula, transferring naval vessels to the Soviet Union.
World War II agreements
The modern Kuril Islands dispute arose in the aftermath of World War II and results from the ambiguities in and disagreements about the meaning of the Yalta agreement (February 1945), the Potsdam Declaration (July 1945) and the Treaty of San Francisco(September 1951). The Yalta Agreement, signed by the US, Great Britain and the Soviet Union, stated:
The leaders of the three great powers – the Soviet Union, the United States of America and Great Britain – have agreed that in two or three months after Germany has surrendered and the war in Europe is terminated, the Soviet Union shall enter into war against Japan on the side of the Allies on condition that: … 2. The former rights of Russia violated by the treacherous attack of Japan in 1904 shall be restored, viz.: (a) The southern part of Sakhalin as well as the islands adjacent to it shall be returned to the Soviet Union; … 3. The Kurile Islands shall be handed over to the Soviet Union.
Japan and the US claimed that the Yalta agreement did not apply to the Northern Territories because they were not a part of the Kuril Islands, although US geographers have traditionally listed them as part of the Kuril chain. In a 1998 article in the journal Pacific Affairs, Bruce Elleman, Michael Nichols and Matthew Ouimet argue that the US never accepted the cession of all the Kuril Islands to the Soviet Union and has maintained from Yalta onwards that it simply agreed at Yalta that Moscow could negotiate directly with Tokyo to come to a mutually acceptable solution, and that the US would support in such a peace agreement the Soviet acquisition of the Kurils. As a key piece of evidence, the same article (page 494 of) quotes an August 27, 1945 letter from U.S President Harry Truman to Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin: “You evidently misunderstood my message [about the Kuril Islands] … I was not speaking of any territory of the Soviet Republic. I was speaking of the Kurile Islands, Japanese territory, disposition of which must be made at a peace settlement. I was advised that my predecessor agreed to support in the peace settlement the Soviet acquisition of those islands.” The Soviet Union—and subsequently, Russia—rejected this position.
The Potsdam Declaration states the following regarding the Japanese territories: “8. The terms of the Cairo Declaration shall be carried out and Japanese sovereignty shall be limited to the islands of Honshū, Hokkaido, Kyushu, Shikoku and such minor islands as we determine”. The islands comprising the Northern Territories are not explicitly included in this list, but the US subsequently maintained, particularly during the preparation of the Treaty of San Francisco, that the phrase “and such minor islands as we determine” could be used to justify transferring the Northern Territories to Japan.
The Cairo Declaration of 1943 did not explicitly mention the Kuril Islands but stated: “Japan will also be expelled from all other territories which she has taken by violence and greed”.
Japan later claimed that the Cairo Declaration and the Potsdam Declaration did not apply to the islands on the grounds that they had never belonged to Russia or been claimed by it since the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries in 1855, and thus they were not among the territories acquired by Japan “by violence and greed”.
San Francisco Treaty
A substantial dispute regarding the status of the Kuril Islands arose between the U.S. and the Soviet Union during the preparation of the Treaty of San Francisco in 1951. The Treaty was supposed to be a permanent peace treaty between Japan and the Allied Powers of World War II. By that time, the Cold War had already taken hold, and the position of the U.S. in relation to the Yalta and Potsdam agreements had changed considerably. The U.S. had come to maintain that the Potsdam Declaration should take precedence and that strict adherence to the Yalta agreement was not necessary since, in the view of the U.S., the Soviet Union itself violated several provisions of the Yalta agreement in relation to the rights of other countries. The Soviet Union vehemently disagreed and demanded that the U.S. adhere to its promises made to the Soviet Union in Yalta as a condition of the Soviet Union’s entry into the war with Japan. A particular point of disagreement at the time was the fact that the draft text of the treaty, while stating that Japan will renounce all rights to Southern Sakhalin and the Kuril islands, did not state explicitly that Japan would recognize the Soviet Union’s sovereignty over these territories.
The Treaty of San Francisco was signed by 49 nations, including Japan and the United States, on September 8, 1951. Article (2c) states:
- “Japan renounces all right, title and claim to the Kurile Islands, and to that portion of Sakhalin and the islands adjacent to it over which Japan acquired sovereignty as a consequence of the Treaty of Portsmouth of 5 September 1905.”
The State Department later clarified that “the Habomai Islands and Shikotan … are properly part of Hokkaido and that Japan is entitled to sovereignty over them”. Britain and the United States agreed that territorial rights would not be granted to nations that did not sign the Treaty of San Francisco, and therefore the islands were not formally recognized as Soviet territory.
The Soviet Union refused to sign the Treaty of San Francisco and publicly stated that the Kuril Islands issue was one of the reasons for its opposition to the Treaty. Japan signed and ratified the San Francisco treaty. However, both the Japanese government and most of the Japanese media currently claim that already at the time of the 1951 San Francisco peace conference, Japan held that the islands of Kunashiri, Etorofu, Shikotan and the Habomai Islands were technically not a part of the Kuril Islands and thus were not covered by the provisions of Article (2c) of the treaty. The timing of this claim is disputed by Russia and by some western historians. In a 2005 article in The Japan Times, journalist Gregory Clark writes that official Japanese statements, maps and other documents from 1951, and the statements by the head of the U.S. delegation to the San Francisco conference—John Foster Dulles—make it clear that at the time the San Francisco Treaty was concluded in October 1951, both Japan and the United States considered the islands of Kunashiri and Etorofu to be a part of the Kuril Islands and to be covered by Article (2c) of the Treaty. Clark made a similar point in a 1992 New York Times opinion column.
In a 2001 book, Seokwoo Lee, a Korean scholar of international law, quotes the October 19, 1951, statement in Japan’s Diet by Kumao Nishimura, Director of the Treaties Bureau of the Foreign Ministry of Japan, stating that both Etorofu and Kunashiri are a part of the Kuril Islands and thus covered by Article (2c) of the San Francisco Treaty.
The U.S. Senate Resolution of April 28, 1952, ratifying of the San Francisco Treaty, explicitly stated that the USSR had no title to the Kurils, the resolution stating:
As part of such advice and consent the Senate states that nothing the treaty [San Francisco Peace Treaty] contains is deemed to diminish or prejudice, in favor of the Soviet Union, the right, title, and interest of Japan, or the Allied Powers as defined in said treaty, in and to South Sakhalin and its adjacent islands, the Kurile Islands, the Habomai Islands, the Island of Shikotan, or any other territory, rights, or interests possessed by Japan on December 7, 1941, or to confer any right, title, or benefit therein or thereto on the Soviet Union.
The U.S. maintains that until a peace treaty between Japan and Russia is concluded, the disputed Northern Territories remain occupied territory under Russian control via General Order No. 1. According to the Russian Embassy in Japan, “A peace treaty has not yet been concluded between the two countries, due to Tokyo’s groundless (sic) territorial claims to the southern Kuril Islands.”
1956 Soviet–Japanese Joint Declaration
During the 1956 peace talks between Japan and the Soviet Union, the Soviet side proposed to settle the dispute by returning Shikotan and Habomai to Japan. In the final round of the talks, the Japanese side accepted the weakness of its claim to Iturup and Kunashiri and agreed to settle on the return of Shikotan and the Habomai Islands, in exchange for a peace treaty. However, the U.S. government intervened and blocked the deal. The U.S. warned Japan that a withdrawal of the Japanese claim on the other islands would mean the U.S. would keep Okinawa, causing Japan to refuse these terms. The U.S. had asserted that the San Francisco Peace Treaty “did not determine the sovereignty of the territories renounced by Japan”, but that “Japan does not have the right to transfer sovereignty over such territories”. Nevertheless, on October 19, 1956, in Moscow, the USSR and Japan signed the Soviet–Japanese Joint Declaration. The Declaration ended the state of war between the Soviet Union and Japan, which technically had still existed between the two countries since August 1945. The Joint Declaration did not settle the Kuril Islands dispute, the resolution of which was postponed until the conclusion of a permanent peace treaty between USSR and Japan. However, Article 9 of the Joint Declaration stated: “The U.S.S.R. and Japan have agreed to continue, after the establishment of normal diplomatic relations between them, negotiations for the conclusion of a peace treaty. Hereby, the U.S.S.R., in response to the desires of Japan and taking into consideration the interest of the Japanese state, agrees to hand over to Japan the Habomai and the Shikotan Islands, provided that the actual changing over to Japan of these islands will be carried out after the conclusion of a peace treaty.”
Dispute over the composition of the Kuril islands
The question of whether Etorofu and Kunashiri islands are a part of the Kurils, and thus whether they are covered by Article (2c) of the Treaty of San Francisco, remains one of the main outstanding issues in the Kuril Islands dispute. Based on a 1966 book by a former Japanese diplomat and a member of the 1956 Japanese delegation for the Moscow peace talks, Clark traces the first Japanese claim that Etorofu and Kunashiri islands are not a part of the Kurils to the 1956 negotiations on the Soviet–Japanese Joint Declaration of 1956. The Soviet Union rejected the view at that time, and subsequently, Russia has maintained the same position since then.
The positions of the two sides have not substantially changed since the 1956 Joint Declaration, and a permanent peace treaty between Japan and Russia has not been concluded.
As late as 2006, the Russian government of Vladimir Putin offered Japan the return of Shikotan and the Habomais (about 6% of the disputed area) if Japan would renounce its claims to the other two islands, referring to the Soviet-Japanese Joint Declaration of 1956, which promised Shikotan and the Habomais would be ceded to Japan once a peace treaty was signed.
Japan has offered substantial financial aid to the Kuril Islands if they are handed over. However, by 2007, residents of the islands were starting to benefit from economic growth and improved living standards, arising in particular from expansion in the fish processing industry. As a result, it is thought that islanders are less likely to be won over by Japanese offers of financial support.
On February 7, 2008, Reuters reported that Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda stated that he had received a letter from Russian President Vladimir Putin in which Putin expressed a willingness to resolve the territorial dispute, and proposed a new round of talks to do so.
The dispute over the Kuril Islands was exacerbated on July 16, 2008, when the Japanese government published new school textbook guidelines directing teachers to say that Japan has sovereignty over the Southern Kuril Islands. The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced on July 18, “[these actions] contribute neither to the development of positive cooperation between the two countries, nor to the settlement of the dispute” and reaffirmed its sovereignty over the islands.
Japanese Prime Minister Tarō Asō and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev met in Sakhalin on February 18, 2009, to discuss the Kuril Islands issue. Aso said after the meeting that they had agreed to speed up efforts to resolve the dispute so that it would not be left to future generations to find a solution.
Japan pays Russia millions of dollars each year for fishing rights around the disputed islands, effectively acknowledging Russian ownership of the islands.
Russia has given several concessions to Japan in the dispute. For example, Russia has introduced visa-free trips for Japanese citizens to the Kuril Islands. Japan’s fishermen are also allowed to catch fish in Russia’s exclusive economic zone.
The Russian Head of the Kuril Region has called for dropping the visa free programme and Japanese fishermen were fired upon for allegedly fishing illegally in Russian waters. A Japanese fisherman was shot dead by a Russian patrol in 2006.
Visit by President Medvedev
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev was quoted by Reuters on September 29, 2010, as saying he planned a visit to the disputed islands soon and calling the South Kurils “an important region of our country”. The Japanese Foreign Ministry criticized Medvedev’s statement, calling it regrettable. Many analysts also viewed that the announcement of the visit is correlated with the recent joint declaration regarding World War II between China and Russia, and linked to the Senkaku Islands dispute between Japan and Taiwan. On November 1, Medvedev visited Kunashir Island, sparking a row with Japan. The visit by Medvedev was seen in Moscow as a signal to Japan that its loudspeaker diplomacy on the islands would fail. Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan called this visit “impermissible rudeness” and subsequently recalled his country’s ambassador to Moscow. The day after the visit, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Medvedev planned more visits to the disputed islands, sparking a warning from Tokyo.
Reinforcement of defences
On 10 February 2011, President Dmitry Medvedev ordered advanced weapons to be deployed on the Kuril Islands, “in order to ensure the security of the islands as an integral part of Russia”. On 15 February, plans for deploying advanced anti-air missiles systems on the Islands were announced. According to a military source interviewed by Russia Today, as part of the reinforcements, the 18th Machine Gun Artillery Division may be upgraded to a modern motorized infantry brigade. The division is to receive an air defense brigade, possibly armed with S-400 SAM systems, according to the Russian General Staff. The Russian military has also announced intention to deploy the new Mistral class amphibious assault ships, and one Steregushchy class corvette in its Pacific Fleet to protect the islands. Russia signed a deal with France in January 2011 to buy four such vessels. However the deal has since been cancelled.
On March 25, 2016, Russian Minister of Defence Sergey Shoygu announced that Bal rocket systems in Kunashir Bastion in Iturup and Eleron-3 UAVs are going to be stationed on the Kuril Islands within this year.
Russian fighter jets intrusion
On 7 February 2013, Russian Su-27 fighter jets entered airspace over Japanese territorial waters north of the island of Hokkaido. Japan Air Self-Defense Force F-2s were scrambled in response. Russia had been conducting scheduled flights over the Kuril Islands, but a spokesman for the Russian Air Force said that none of their aircraft entered Japanese airspace. This is the first incursion by Russian aircraft since 2008.
2013 Abe visit to Moscow
After winning the 2012 Japanese election, Prime Minister Shinzō Abe made good on promises to restart talks on the disputed nature of the islands. At the end of April 2013, he visited Moscow for discussion with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Abe said: “The potential for cooperation has not been unlocked sufficiently and it is necessary to increase the cooperation between our countries as partners”; he added that he intended to have a good personal relationship with Putin as a basis for resolving the dispute.
2017 Abe visit to Vladivostok
2018 Abe visit to Vladivostok
Russian President and Japanese Prime minister met in Eastern Economic Forum in September 2018. Putin said, “We agreed to hold the third Japanese-Russian business mission to the South Kuril Islands by the end of this year, after which the fourth round of negotiations on joint activities will take place.”
On September 12, 2018, Russian president Vladimir Putin offered Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe a peace treaty “before the end of the year, without any preconditions.” Abe did not respond. Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said “there is absolutely no change to our country’s perspective of resolving the problem of rights over the Northern Territories before sealing a peace treaty”.
2018 East Asia Summit
At the Thirteenth East Asia Summit (November 2018) in Singapore, Shinzo Abe followed up on Vladimir Putin’s proposal from September in Vladivostok. He said that the leaders would seek a peace treaty to the terms of the 1956 Soviet–Japanese Joint Declaration. The declaration gave Japan the Habomai islet group and Shikotan while the Soviet Union claimed the remaining islands, but the United States did not allow the 1956 treaty. Putin and Abe agreed that the terms of the 1956 deal would be part of a bilateral peace treaty.
January 2019 talks in Moscow
The Japanese foreign minister Taro Kono visited Moscow and held talks on the Kuril Islands dispute with Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov on 14 January 2019. At the conclusion of their meeting, Lavrov said that they agreed on wanting to increase ties between the two countries but serious differences remained between the Russian and Japanese positions on the issue. He also said that Japan must recognize them as sovereign Russian territory as a start. In a statement to reporters he had said “Russia’s sovereignty over the islands isn’t subject to discussion. They are part of the territory of the Russian Federation.” A couple days later on January 16, Lavrov questioned whether or not Japan has accepted the result of World War II.
A meeting between Vladimir Putin and Shinzō Abe on January 22 also did not bring about breakthrough.
On 17 July 2018 former Japanese residents began a tour to visit family graves on the Smaller Kuril Archipelago group of islets. Such visits to family graves have been allowed for humanitarian reasons since 1964. The processing had previously been limited to Kunashiri Island. But an agreement at the 2016 Japan-Russia summit made it possible to process the requests in the sea off Smaller Kuril Archipelago, closer to the destination. A new procedure to process entry requests to the four Russian-held islands is expected to reduce travel time from five hours to about three hours.
Japan’s current view of the dispute is given in the official pamphlet of the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs:
- The Cairo Declaration and the Potsdam Declaration did not apply to the Northern Territories because those islands had never belonged to Russia even before 1904–1905.
- Russia had not previously claimed the disputed islands since it began diplomatic relations with Japan in 1855. Therefore, the disputed islands could not be considered part of the territories acquired by Japan “by violence and greed”.
- The Yalta Agreement “did not determine the final settlement of the territorial problem, as it was no more than a statement by the then leaders of the Allied Powers as to principles of the postwar settlement. (Territorial issues should be settled by a peace treaty.) Furthermore, Japan is not bound by this document, to which it did not agree.”
- The Soviet Union’s 1945 entry into the war against Japan was a violation of the Soviet–Japanese Neutrality Pact, and the occupation of the islands was therefore a violation of international law. Although the Soviet Union renounced the neutrality pact on April 5, 1945, Japan contends that the pact remained in effect until April 25, 1946, the 5 year anniversary of the pact’s ratification.
- Although by the terms of Article (2c) of the 1951 San Francisco treaty, Japan renounced all rights to the Kuril Islands, the treaty did not apply to the islands of Kunashiri, Etorofu, Shikotan and Habomai since they are not included in the Kuril Islands. Also, the Soviet Union did not sign the San Francisco treaty.
Public attitudes in Japan
In Japan, there are various private groups cooperating with local and national government to encourage the Japanese people to push for the return of the islands. One man whose family was evicted from the islands, Kenjirō Suzuki, heads the Tokachi branch of the League of Chishima Habomai Islands Residents (Chishima is the Japanese name for the Kuril Islands). In 2008, the main organization had a budget of approximately 187 million yen (US$1.7 million).
In 2018 the National Museum of Territory and Sovereignty (currently located in the Toranomon Mitsui Building, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo) was established by the Japanese government to raise public awareness of Japanese territorial rights issues concerning the Kuril Islands dispute, as well as issues concerning territorial claims to Takeshima and Senkaku Islands.
Russia maintains that all the Kuril Islands, including those that Japan calls the Northern Territories, are legally a part of Russia as a result of World War II, and the acquisition was as proper as any other change of international boundaries following the war. Moscow cites the following basic points:
- The explicit language of the Yalta Agreement gave the Soviet Union a right to the Kurils, and the Soviet Union upheld its own obligations under that treaty.
- Russia inherited possession of the islands from the former Soviet Union, as its successor state, in accordance with international law.
- The Japanese assertion that the disputed islands are not part of the Kurils is simply a tactic to bolster Japan’s territorial claim and is not supported by history or geography.
Russia has said it is open to a negotiated “solution” to the island dispute but declared that the legality of its own claim to the islands is not open to question. In other words, Japan would first have to recognize Russia’s right to the islands and then try to acquire some or all of them by negotiations.
The islands are important both economically and militarily due to their abundance of natural resources and their strategic location. The archipelago is important for Russia’s defenses because the straits give the Russian Pacific Fleet access to the Pacific Ocean, while other straits are under control of foreign countries or underdeveloped. If Russia were to lose control of the islands, it would also have its ability to control the access of foreign vessels to the Sea of Okhotsk reduced[dubious ] (the northern part of the chain of Islands would still be under Russian control).
On 21 December 2018, Russian President Vladimir Putin said at his annual news conference that the United States’ military presence in Japan was complicating the search for a formal peace treaty between Moscow and Tokyo. Putin told reporters that Moscow was concerned by the deployment of a U.S. air defense system in Japan.
Public attitudes in Russia
In Russia, most of the population and mass media strongly oppose any territorial concessions to Japan. A common view is that the Soviet Union won the Kuril Islands during World War II and is entitled to keep them regardless of the prior history of the disputed territories. Many believe that taking these islands away from Japan was a just reward for the Soviet Union’s sacrifices during World War II and for its agreement to enter the war against Japan at the request of its allies. The attitudes of the Russian public have hardened in the 2000s. According to a July 2009 poll conducted by the All-Russian Public Opinion Research Center (VTsIOM), 89% of respondents were against territorial concessions to Japan in the Kuril Islands dispute, compared to 76% from a similar poll in 1994. The Zemlyak movement in Russia advocates a return of the islands to Japan.
A poll in May 2016 showed that the percentage of respondents that said they would support giving the islands to Japan was 7%. In November 2018 a similar poll was conducted, and the number supporting giving the islands was at 17%.
Some individuals of the Ainu also claim the Kuril Islands, on the basis that their ethnic group inhabited the archipelago and Sakhalin prior to the arrival of Japanese and Russian settlers in the 19th century.
In 2004, the small Ainu community living in Kamchatka Krai wrote a letter to Vladimir Putin, urging him to reconsider any move to award the Southern Kuril islands to Japan. In the letter they blamed the Japanese, the Tsarist Russians, and the Soviets for crimes against the Ainu such as killings and assimilation, and they also urged him to recognize the Japanese genocide against the Ainu people, which was turned down by Putin.
Opinion of third party countries and organizations
The European Parliament, in the resolution “Relations between EU, China and Taiwan and Security in the Far East”, adopted on July 7, 2005, called on Russia to return to Japan the “occupied” South Kuril Islands.
Neighboring Northeast Asian countries of China, North Korea, and South Korea do not support Japan’s claim to the Kuril Islands.
Interests of both parties
The meeting between the leaders of two countries that took place on 5 May 2016 in Moscow was expected to make progress in the resolution of a prolonged territorial disputes. However, Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe and Russian president Vladimir Putin focused on the “current state and the prospects of development of bilateral cooperation in trade and economy as well as in the humanitarian field”. Close to the end of May, Sergey Shoygu, the Russian Defence Minister, announced that Russia is ready to protect the islands against the alien airplanes flying over the islands by positioning defence system along the main islands. Furthermore, on 8 June 2015, there was an order from the Defence Minister to hurry up with the construction of military facilities on Iturup and Kunashir islands. This news generated a wave of Japanese dissatisfaction. Although Japan objected to the actions of Russia, the latter did not show any signs for changing its plans. On November 19, 2018, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov stated that upcoming talks about resolving a dispute with Japan over a group of islands claimed by Tokyo would not necessarily result in Russia relinquishing them.
Political and strategic issues
A Japanese online resource reports that military infrastructure that is springing up in the Kuril Islands is believed to be part of the future plan of “North Sea Route”, a sea route between the Kara Sea in the Arctic and the Pacific Ocean. The source believes that the route might be in hand to Russia since its power in the Pacific has been weakened for the last several decades. Moreover, the transfer of Kuril to Japan would escalate territorial disputes Russia has with other countries.
References and footnotes
- In Russia Shikotan and Habomai Islands are grouped into the Lesser Kuril Chain(Russian: Малая Курильская гряда Malaya Kurilskaya gryada). See Seokwoo Lee, Towards a framework for the resolution of the territorial dispute over the Kurile Islands, Boundary and territory briefing, v. 3, no. 6, University of Durham, 2001; ISBN 1-897643-44-6; p. 14
- Article 25 of The San Francisco Peace Treaty defines the Allied Forces as “the States at war with Japan, […] provided that in each case the State concerned has signed and ratified the Treaty. […] the present Treaty shall not confer any rights, titles or benefits on any State which is not an Allied Power as herein defined; nor shall any right, title or interest of Japan be deemed to be diminished or prejudiced by any provision of the Treaty in favor of a State which is not an Allied Power as so defined.” The Allied powers were Australia, Canada, Ceylon, France, Indonesia, the Kingdom of the Netherlands, New Zealand, Pakistan, the Republic of the Philippines, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and the United States of America. The Soviet Union refused to sign the treaty.
- “The history of the Kuril Islands Dispute”. RIA Novosti. 1 May 2009. Retrieved 2009-07-09.
- Text of Gromyko’s Statement on the Peace Treaty.New York Times, page 26, September 9, 1951
- Northern Territories dispute highlights flawed diplomacy. By Gregory Clark. Japan Times, March 24, 2005. “Japanese materials at the time – Foreign Ministry maps, statements by former Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida at San Francisco and in his later memoirs, and newspaper reports all make it clear that Etorofu and Kunashiri were most definitely included. The chief U.S. negotiator for the San Francisco treaty, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, agreed. Asked at San Francisco to define the territory of the Kurils, he said only that the Habomais might be excluded (at the time there were suggestions that Shikotan might be part of the Kurils). More was to follow. Questioned in the Diet on October 19, 1951, over whether the word “Kurils” as used in the treaty included Etorofu and Kunashiri, the head of the Foreign Ministry Treaties Bureau, Kumao Nishimura, said unambiguously that both the northern Chishima and southern Chishima (Etorofu and Kunashiri) were included.”
- ““Japan’s undermining of Russian sovereignty not tolerated” – Medvedev”. Archived from the original on 2009-06-01.
- О проблеме мирного договора в российско-японских отношениях (in Russian). Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 22 July 2005. Archived from the original on 21 June 2009. Retrieved 2009-07-26.
- Ito, Masami, “Russian-held isles: So near, so far“, Japan Times, 18 January 2011, p. 3.
- Thierry Mormanne, « Le problème des Kouriles : pour un retour à Saint-Pétersbourg », in : Cipango, No 1, Paris, p. 58-89, 1992. ISSN 1164-5857.
- Sohn, Joan (2011). 36 Letters. Jewish Publication Society. ISBN 978-0827609266.
The fabled Russian military machine proved to be inept and the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–1905 was a slaughterhouse and a disaster. … Brest was a transit station and camp for the army, and the city was full of soldiers and reservists returning from the disastrous Russo-Japanese War.
- Papastratigakis, Nicholas (2011). Russian Imperialism and Naval Power: Military Strategy and the Build-Up to the Russo-Japanese War. I. B. Tauris. ISBN 978-1848856912.
Gatrell has asserted that the navy, in contrast to the army, was not underfunded and the armament requirements of the Navy Ministry were satisfied, since most of the money was spent on the construction and repair of vessels. In this sense he attributed the navy’s disastrous performance in the Russo-Japanese War to the mismanagement of adequate resources and enforced economies impairing the training of crews.
- K. Takahara, Nemuro raid survivor longs for homeland. Japan Times, September 22, 2007. Accessed August 3, 2008
- Bruce A. Elleman, Michael R. Nichols and Matthew J. Ouimet, A Historical Reevaluation of America’s Role in the Kuril Islands Dispute, Pacific Affairs, Vol. 71, No. 4 (Winter, 1998–1999), pp. 489–504
- “Potsdam Declaration”.
- Text of Dulles Reply to the Soviet Charges Against Japanese Peace Treaty; THE PRESIDENT ARRIVING TO OPEN PEACE CONFERENCE, New York Times, September 4, 1951; from page 3: “Charge: […] Likewise, the Treaty States that southern Sakhalin and the Kurile Islands are to be detached from Japan but does not state, as previously promised by the United States, that these territories should be handed over to the Soviet Union. Reply: […] As regards South Sakhalin and the Kurile Islands, the treaty carries out the provisions of the Potsdam surrender terms, the only agreement by which Japan and the Allied powers as a whole are bound. So long as other governments have rights under the Yalta Agreement which the Soviet Union has not fulfilled, there is at least question as to whether the Soviet Union can, “with clean hands”, demand the fulfillment of the parts of that agreement it likes”.
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Japan’s dispute with Russia has divided the two countries for more than half a century, preventing them from signing a formal peace treaty to conclude World War II.
- European Parliament resolution on relations between the EU, China and Taiwan and security in the Far East #15 
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After a possible transfer of the Kuril Islands to Japan border issues with countries such as China, Estonia, and Finland may escalate.