Japan to Seek Only Two Russian-held Kuril Islands

May 14, 2015 by

[This post was originally published in May 2012]


The Japanese government offers to negotiate the return of two rather than all four Russian-held islands off Hokkaido, in hopes that the proposed compromise might finally lead to a breakthrough in the decades-old territorial dispute, according to The Japan Times and the BCM Russian news website. The four contested islands, known as Southern Kurils, include Etorofu (Iturup), Kunashiri (Kunashir), Shikotan, and the Habomei (Habomai) islets (see map). Japan claims these islands in accordance with the 1855 Treaty of Commerce, Navigation and Delimitation, which also confirmed the status quo of Sakhalin as a place where people from both countries could live. The Treaty of Saint Petersburg, concluded on May 7, 1875, resulted in Japan relinquishing all rights over Sakhalin in exchange for Russia ceding all of the Kuril Islands to Japan. The Soviet Union seized southern Sakhalin and the Kuril Islands at the end of World War II, but a 1956 joint declaration by Japan and the Soviet Union stipulated that Shikotan and the Habomai islet group would be returned to Japan after the two sides signed a peace treaty to officially end the war. However, since Tokyo has long demanded the return of all four southernmost islands, the two sides have been unable to sign a peace treaty to formally end World War II hostilities.

The idea to negotiate the return of Shikotan and the Habomai group as a first step in the resolution of this long-standing diplomatic impasse belongs to the then Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, who proposed it to Russian President Vladimir Putin in March 2001. However, negotiating the return of two rather than all four islands at once met with resistance in Japan, because of fears that such an arrangement would result in Moscow retaining control of Etorofu and Kunashiri indefinitely. Such concerns prompted Mori’s successor Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to seek a comprehensive resolution to the dispute before the two sides conclude a peace treaty, but Putin ultimately dismissed the suggestion. The revival of the idea to negotiate over just two islands coincides with Putin’s return to the presidency yesterday, as the president-elect expressed a certain degree of willingness to resolve the issue in an interview with foreign media outlets in March of this year. However, other Russian media outlets, such as Fontanka.ru, claim that “no Russian president will ever relinquish the Kurils to Japan” and cite sources in the Kremlin as saying that “Japan missed its historical chance to solve this territorial problem already in 1996 when President Boris Yeltsin met with the Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto in Krasnoyarsk”.

In the meantime, on May 4, 2012 Kuril Islands experienced a series of off-shore earthquakes ranging in magnitude from 3.3 to 5.2 on the Richter scale. According to Regions.ru, there are no reports of destruction or casualties, and no tsunami warning has been announced.

Related Posts

Subscribe For Updates

We would love to have you back on Languages Of The World in the future. If you would like to receive updates of our newest posts, feel free to do so using any of your favorite methods below: