Kuril Islands dispute
Overview
 
The Kuril Islands dispute , also known as the , is a dispute between Japan
Japan
Japan is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of the Sea of Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south...

 and Russia
Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

 over sovereignty
Sovereignty
Sovereignty is the quality of having supreme, independent authority over a geographic area, such as a territory. It can be found in a power to rule and make law that rests on a political fact for which no purely legal explanation can be provided...

 over the South Kuril Islands. The disputed islands, which were occupied by Soviet forces during the Manchurian Strategic Offensive Operation at the end of World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

, are under Russian administration as South Kuril District of the Sakhalin Oblast
Sakhalin Oblast
Sakhalin Oblast is a federal subject of Russia comprising the island of Sakhalin and the Kuril Islands.The oblast has an area of 87,100 km² and a population of 546,695...

 (Сахалинская область, Sakhalinskaya oblast), but are claimed by Japan, which refers to them as the or , being part of the Nemuro Subprefecture
Nemuro Subprefecture
is a subprefecture of Hokkaidō, Japan. The Japanese claim the disputed Southern Kurile Islands as part of this subprefecture....

 of Hokkaidō Prefecture.

The San Francisco Peace Treaty between the Allied Powers and Japan from 1951 states that Japan must give up all claims to the Kuril islands, but it also does not recognize the Soviet Union's sovereignty over the Kuril Islands.
Discussions
Encyclopedia
The Kuril Islands dispute , also known as the , is a dispute between Japan
Japan
Japan is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of the Sea of Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south...

 and Russia
Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

 over sovereignty
Sovereignty
Sovereignty is the quality of having supreme, independent authority over a geographic area, such as a territory. It can be found in a power to rule and make law that rests on a political fact for which no purely legal explanation can be provided...

 over the South Kuril Islands. The disputed islands, which were occupied by Soviet forces during the Manchurian Strategic Offensive Operation at the end of World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

, are under Russian administration as South Kuril District of the Sakhalin Oblast
Sakhalin Oblast
Sakhalin Oblast is a federal subject of Russia comprising the island of Sakhalin and the Kuril Islands.The oblast has an area of 87,100 km² and a population of 546,695...

 (Сахалинская область, Sakhalinskaya oblast), but are claimed by Japan, which refers to them as the or , being part of the Nemuro Subprefecture
Nemuro Subprefecture
is a subprefecture of Hokkaidō, Japan. The Japanese claim the disputed Southern Kurile Islands as part of this subprefecture....

 of Hokkaidō Prefecture.

The San Francisco Peace Treaty between the Allied Powers and Japan from 1951 states that Japan must give up all claims to the Kuril islands, but it also does not recognize the Soviet Union's sovereignty over the Kuril Islands. Furthermore, Japan currently 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 following agreements at the end of the Second World War. However, Japan has disputed this claim. The disputed islands are:
  • Iturup
    Iturup
    Iturup is the largest island of the South Kuril Islands. It is the northernmost island in the southern Kuril/Chishima islands, and though it is presently controlled by Russia, Japan also claims this island...

     /
  • Kunashir /
  • Shikotan
    Shikotan
    Shikotan, in Russian , Japanese , or シコタㇴ), is one of the bigger islands of the Kuril Islands, which are controlled by Russia. It is one of the four southernmost islands which Japan maintains a claim for...

     /
  • Habomai rocks /

Background

The first Russo-Japanese agreement to deal with the status of Sakhalin
Sakhalin
Sakhalin or Saghalien, is a large island in the North Pacific, lying between 45°50' and 54°24' N.It is part of Russia, and is Russia's largest island, and is administered as part of Sakhalin Oblast...

 and the Kuril Islands
Kuril Islands
The Kuril Islands , in Russia's Sakhalin Oblast region, form a volcanic archipelago that stretches approximately northeast from Hokkaidō, Japan, to Kamchatka, Russia, separating the Sea of Okhotsk from the North Pacific Ocean. There are 56 islands and many more minor rocks. It consists of Greater...

 is the 1855 Treaty of Shimoda
Treaty of Shimoda
The Treaty of Shimoda of 1855, formally Treaty of Commerce and Navigation between Japan and Russia , was signed between the Russian Vice-Admiral Euphimy Vasil'evich Putiatin and Toshiakira Kawaji of Japan in the city of Shimoda, Izu Province, Japan, on February 7, 1855...

 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 boundary between the two nations shall lie between the islands of Etorofu and Uruppu. The whole of Etorofu shall belong to Japan; and the Kurile Islands, lying to the north of and including Uruppu, shall belong to Russia." The islands of Kunashiri, Shikotan and the Habomai Islands, that all lie to the south of Etorofu, 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 was not to be partitioned but was to remain under a joint Russo-Japanese condominium.

In a subsequent 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.

The Russo-Japanese war
Russo-Japanese War
The Russo-Japanese War was "the first great war of the 20th century." It grew out of rival imperial ambitions of the Russian Empire and Japanese Empire over Manchuria and Korea...

 of 1904-1905 was a military disaster for Russia. The 1905 Treaty of Portsmouth
Treaty of Portsmouth
The Treaty of Portsmouth formally ended the 1904-05 Russo-Japanese War. It was signed on September 5, 1905 after negotiations at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine in the USA.-Negotiations:...

, concluded at the end of this war, gave the southern half of the Sakhalin Island to Japan.

Although Japan occupied parts of Russia's Far East
Siberian Intervention
The ', or the Siberian Expedition, of 1918–1922 was the dispatch of troops of the Entente powers to the Russian Maritime Provinces as part of a larger effort by the western powers and Japan to support White Russian forces against the Bolshevik Red Army during the Russian Civil War...

 during the Russian Civil War
Russian Civil War
The Russian Civil War was a multi-party war that occurred within the former Russian Empire after the Russian provisional government collapsed to the Soviets, under the domination of the Bolshevik party. Soviet forces first assumed power in Petrograd The Russian Civil War (1917–1923) was a...

 following the October Revolution
October Revolution
The October Revolution , also known as the Great October Socialist Revolution , Red October, the October Uprising or the Bolshevik Revolution, was a political revolution and a part of the Russian Revolution of 1917...

, Japan did not formally annex any of these territories and they were vacated by Japan by the mid-1920s.

There was practically no hostile activity between the USSR and Japan after the Battle of Khalkin Gol ended the Japanese-Soviet Border Wars
Soviet-Japanese Border Wars
The Soviet–Japanese Border Wars were a series of border conflicts between the Soviet Union and Japan between 1932 and 1939.Before Japanese occupation of Manchukuo, the Soviet Union had conflict with China on the border of Manchuria...

 in 1939 and before the USSR declared war on Japan (Manchurian Strategic Offensive Operation) on August 8, 1945. It was after Japan accepted the Potsdam Declaration
Potsdam Declaration
The Potsdam Declaration or the Proclamation Defining Terms for Japanese Surrender is a statement calling for the Surrender of Japan in World War II. On July 26, 1945, United States President Harry S...

 on August 14, 1945, and announced the termination of the war on August 15, 1945, that the Soviet Union started the Invasion of the Kuril Islands, which took place between August 18 and September 3, expelling the Japanese inhabitants two years later.

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
Potsdam Declaration
The Potsdam Declaration or the Proclamation Defining Terms for Japanese Surrender is a statement calling for the Surrender of Japan in World War II. On July 26, 1945, United States President Harry S...

 (July 1945) and the Treaty of San Francisco
Treaty of San Francisco
The Treaty of Peace with Japan , between Japan and part of the Allied Powers, was officially signed by 48 nations on September 8, 1951, at the War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco, California...

 (September 1951). The Yalta Agreement, signed by the U.S., 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—as well as the U.S.—claimed that the Yalta agreement did not apply to the Northern Territories because they were not a part of the Kuril Islands, although U.S. geographers have traditionally listed them as part of the Kuril chain. In a 1998 article in the journal Pacific Affairs
Pacific Affairs
Pacific Affairs ' is a peer-reviewed scholarly journal that publishes academic research on contemporary political, economic, and social issues in Asia and the Pacific. The journal was founded in 1926 as the newsletter for the entirety of the Institute of Pacific Relations . In May 1928, PA adopted...

, Bruce Elleman, Michael Nichols and Matthew Ouimet argue that the U.S. 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 U.S. 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 Truman to 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 U.S. 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
Cairo Declaration
The Cairo Declaration was the outcome of the Cairo Conference in Cairo, Egypt, on November 27, 1943. President Franklin Roosevelt of the United States, Prime Minister Winston Churchill of the United Kingdom, and Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek of the Republic of China were present...

 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
Allies of World War II
The Allies of World War II were the countries that opposed the Axis powers during the Second World War . Former Axis states contributing to the Allied victory are not considered Allied states...

. By that time, the Cold War
Cold War
The Cold War was the continuing state from roughly 1946 to 1991 of political conflict, military tension, proxy wars, and economic competition between the Communist World—primarily the Soviet Union and its satellite states and allies—and the powers of the Western world, primarily the United States...

 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 officially 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
Treaty of Portsmouth
The Treaty of Portsmouth formally ended the 1904-05 Russo-Japanese War. It was signed on September 5, 1905 after negotiations at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine in the USA.-Negotiations:...

 of 5 September 1905." The State Department later clarified that "the Habomai Islands and Shitokan ... 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 rocks 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
The Japan Times
The Japan Times is an English language newspaper published in Japan. Unlike its competitors, the Daily Yomiuri and the International Herald Tribune/Asahi Shimbun, it is not affiliated with a Japanese language media organization...

, 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
John Foster Dulles
John Foster Dulles served as U.S. Secretary of State under President Dwight D. Eisenhower from 1953 to 1959. He was a significant figure in the early Cold War era, advocating an aggressive stance against communism throughout the world...

—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 on international law—quotes the October 19, 1951 statement in Japan's Diet
Diet of Japan
The is Japan's bicameral legislature. It is composed of a lower house, called the House of Representatives, and an upper house, called the House of Councillors. Both houses of the Diet are directly elected under a parallel voting system. In addition to passing laws, the Diet is formally...

 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 Japanese territory under Russian military occupation via General Order No. 1.

1956 Soviet-Japanese Joint Declaration and dispute over the composition of the Kuril islands

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 Etorofu and Kunashiri and agreed to settle for return of Shikotan and the Habomais, in exchange for a peace treaty. However, the Americans intervened and blocked the deal. The U.S. warning to Japan that a withdrawal of the Japanese claim on the other islands would mean the U.S. would keep Okinawa caused 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
Soviet-Japanese Joint Declaration of 1956
The Soviet Union did not sign the Treaty of Peace with Japan in 1951. On October 19, 1956, Japan and the Soviet Union signed a Joint Declaration providing for the end of the state of war, and for restoration of diplomatic relations between USSR and Japan. The two parties also agreed to continue...

. 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."

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
Soviet-Japanese Joint Declaration of 1956
The Soviet Union did not sign the Treaty of Peace with Japan in 1951. On October 19, 1956, Japan and the Soviet Union signed a Joint Declaration providing for the end of the state of war, and for restoration of diplomatic relations between USSR and Japan. The two parties also agreed to continue...

. The Soviet Union rejected the view at that time, and subsequently, Russia has maintained the same position since then.

Recent developments

The positions of the two sides have not substantially changed since the 1956 Joint Declaration, and a permanent peace treaty between Japan and Russia still has not been concluded.

On July 7, 2005, the European Parliament
European Parliament
The European Parliament is the directly elected parliamentary institution of the European Union . Together with the Council of the European Union and the Commission, it exercises the legislative function of the EU and it has been described as one of the most powerful legislatures in the world...

 issued an official statement recommending the return of the territories in dispute, which Russia immediately protested.

As late as 2006, Russia's Putin
Vladimir Putin
Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin served as the second President of the Russian Federation and is the current Prime Minister of Russia, as well as chairman of United Russia and Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Union of Russia and Belarus. He became acting President on 31 December 1999, when...

 administration 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 6, 2008, Japan Today, an English-language news site in Japan, reported that the Russian president had suggested to Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda
Yasuo Fukuda
was the 91st Prime Minister of Japan, serving from 2007 to 2008. He was previously the longest-serving Chief Cabinet Secretary in Japanese history, serving for three and a half years under Prime Ministers Yoshirō Mori and Junichiro Koizumi....

 to finally settle all territorial disputes over the Kuril Islands and had sent him a letter inviting him to come to Russia for discussions.

The dispute over the Kuril Islands was further exacerbated on July 16, 2008, when the Japanese government published new school textbook guidelines directing teachers to say that Japan has sovereignty over the 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 Taro Aso
Taro Aso
was the 92nd Prime Minister of Japan serving from September 2008 to September 2009, and was defeated in the August 2009 election.He has served in the House of Representatives since 1979. He was Minister for Foreign Affairs from 2005 to 2007, and was Secretary-General of the LDP briefly in 2007 and...

 and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev
Dmitry Medvedev
Dmitry Anatolyevich Medvedev is the third President of the Russian Federation.Born to a family of academics, Medvedev graduated from the Law Department of Leningrad State University in 1987. He defended his dissertation in 1990 and worked as a docent at his alma mater, now renamed to Saint...

 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.

Visa issues

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 sea bioresources in Russia's exclusive economic zone.

However, tensions seem to be rising on both sides as the Russian Head of the Kuril Region has called for dropping the visa free program 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
Reuters
Reuters is a news agency headquartered in New York City. Until 2008 the Reuters news agency formed part of a British independent company, Reuters Group plc, which was also a provider of financial market data...

 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
Senkaku Islands dispute
The Senkaku Islands dispute concerns a territorial dispute on a group of uninhabited islands, the Senkaku Islands, which are also known as the Diaoyu or Diaoyutai Islands. These disputed islands are currently controlled and administered by Japan, and claimed by both the People's Republic of China...

 between Japan and China. On November 1, Medvedev visited Kunashir Island
Kunashir Island
Kunashir Island , possibly meaning Black Island or Grass Island in Ainu, is the southernmost island of the Kuril Islands, which are controlled by Russia and claimed by Japan ....

, 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
Naoto Kan
is a Japanese politician, and former Prime Minister of Japan. In June 2010, then-Finance Minister Kan was elected as the leader of the Democratic Party of Japan and designated Prime Minister by the Diet to succeed Yukio Hatoyama. On 26 August 2011, Kan announced his resignation...

 called this visit "impermissible rudeness" and subsequently recalled his 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, Russian leader Dmitry Medvedev called for increased military deployments on Kuril Islands. In making the statement, Medvedev said the islands were an "inseparable" part of the country and a strategic Russian region. No direct reference was made to what military equipment would be deployed on the islands, although the Russian RIA Novosti news agency reported that the new Mistral-class amphibious assault ships, being built in a deal with France, would be deployed to the region. On 15 February, plans for deploying advanced anti-air missiles systems on the Islands was announced.

Japan's view

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, not in all the time 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."
  • Russia'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. The Soviet Union repudiated the neutrality pact on April 5, 1945, but the pact remained in effect until April 13, 1946.
  • 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 the Habomai rocks since they are not included in the Kuril Islands. Also, the Soviet Union did not sign the San Francisco treaty.

Russia's view

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 that this 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 Treaty 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 Tokyo'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 while declaring 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 through negotiations.

Public attitudes

In Russia, most of the population—as well as the mass media—strongly oppose any territorial concessions to Japan. A common view is that Russia 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 Russia's sacrifices during World War II and for Russia's 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.

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, Kenjiro 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 ($1.7 million US$).

See also

  • Defence of the Kuril Islands
    Defence of the Kuril Islands
    Defence of the Kuril Islands is for the most part the responsibility of the Russian 18th Artillery Division, which is stationed on the islands. Substantial improvements of the Kuril defences were announced by President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev in February 2011 as a deterrent against Japanese action...

  • Kuril Islands
    Kuril Islands
    The Kuril Islands , in Russia's Sakhalin Oblast region, form a volcanic archipelago that stretches approximately northeast from Hokkaidō, Japan, to Kamchatka, Russia, separating the Sea of Okhotsk from the North Pacific Ocean. There are 56 islands and many more minor rocks. It consists of Greater...

  • Soviet-Japanese relations and Russo-Japanese relations
  • Foreign relations of Japan
    Foreign relations of Japan
    Foreign relations of Japan is handled by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan.Since the surrender after World War II and the Treaty of San Francisco, Japanese diplomatic policy has been based on close partnership with the United States and the emphasis on the international cooperation such as...

  • Treaty of Saint Petersburg (1875)
  • All-Russian Committee for Defence of Kuriles
    All-Russian Committee for Defence of Kuriles
    All-Russian Committee for Defence of Kuriles is an association in Russia, formed by the 1992 Communist Party of the Soviet Union of Sergei Skvortsov to politically counter the Japanese claims to the Kuriles...

  • Ainu people
    Ainu people
    The , also called Aynu, Aino , and in historical texts Ezo , are indigenous people or groups in Japan and Russia. Historically they spoke the Ainu language and related varieties and lived in Hokkaidō, the Kuril Islands, and much of Sakhalin...


Further reading


External links

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