Abe and Putin make slight Kuril progress

Abe and Putin make slight Kuril progress

Earlier Japanese-Russian tensions: “The landing of the Japanese army. Welcomed by every nation at Vladivostok (sic)”. The Japanese occupation of the Russian city of Vladivostok depicted during the Russian Civil War in 1919. The Japanese were defeated by Soviet Russia and forced to withdraw by 1922. The Japanese had also occupied the city 1905. Source: Wikimedia

At the recently concluded Eastern Economic Forum (EEF), Tokyo and Moscow appeared to make progress on the ongoing dispute over the Kuril Islands, seized by the Red Army at the end of the Second World War.

Vladivostok hosted the 2016 EEF days before the G20 summit in Hangzhou, China, give Russian President Vladimir Putin an opportunity to consolidate his “pivot to the East”.

He discussed economic ties with Japan and the Kuril Islands, known to the Japanese as the Northern Territories.

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev infuriated Tokyo last year when he visited the islands, which have a population of around 19,000.

Over two days Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe highlighted the need for a resolution, arguing that the past should not affect the future and that it was not the economies of the countries that were in conflict.

The two leaders are due to meet again in December and have agreed to take greater steps toward resolving the conflict.

A poll by the Russian Public Opinion Research Centre in March suggested  that 80 per cent of Russians considered Japan to be a “friendly” nation, with 16 per cent holding regarding it as unfriendly. More than half said that they could “trust” Japan as a friendly nation.

More than 75 per cent of respondents said Moscow should cooperate with Tokyo on technology, trade and security; 58 per cent did not see Japan as a potential military threat but 53 per cent were reported to have said the Kuril Islands were and, rather outrageously, always had been Russian territory.

Putin has made it clear that he will not sell the islands, and is not interested in sacrificing the territorial hold.

But both sides want to end the dispute and sign a formal peace treaty to officially end the Second World War.

Abe and Putin are interested in increasing economic ties but Russia’s strategic and security considerations towards other powers also play a significant role in the issue.

China and the US spheres of influence converge on the area and Russia’s defence ministry has announced plans to militarise some of the islands.

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