Russia in no rush to sign Kuril deal
Russia has no timeframe for agreeing to a post-1945 peace treaty with Japan, according to Russia’s veteran foreign minister Sergey Lavrov. He held talks with his Japanese counterpart Taro Kono over the disputed Kuril Islands but little progress was made.
The four islands, which mark the westernmost links along the Kuril chain on the southern end of the Sea of Okhotsk, have considerable strategic value for Russia.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is believed to hope for a broad treaty in June when Russian President Vladimir Putin is due to visit Japan for the G20 summit.
“The Russian side has no timeframe. We explained [it] to the Japanese side calmly,” Lavrov told the media.
Lavrov said Japan must recognise the acquisition by Moscow of four islands north of Hokkaido as the outcome of the end of the Second World War. The Japanese insist the islands were illegally seized by the Soviet Union after Japan’s surrender in 1945.
They are called the Northern Territories in Japan and the Southern Kurils in Russia.
Russia is reluctant to return the islands while there is a US military presence in Japan.
Japan, as a US treaty ally, has maintained a right to allow US forces on its territory. For Russia, the possibility of US personnel on the Kurils, possibly threatening the Russian Pacific Fleet in the Okhotsk, is unacceptable.
Kono said a treaty could not be concluded “overnight” and that both countries needed to continue talks “patiently”.
“We had very deep discussions to find a solution that is acceptable to both sides,” he told the media.
Both sides agreed to more talks in Japan.
Abe and Putin met in Moscow last month and held discussions based on a 1956 joint declaration, which mentions the transfer from Moscow to Tokyo of the smaller two of the four islands – Shikotan (pictured) and the Habomai group – once a peace deal is concluded.
But Tokyo and Moscow have differing interpretations of the joint declaration and Abe is under fire at home from the opposition over his apparent shift in policy to seek the return of two, rather than the four, islands.
The Kremlin is demanding that Japan first recognise the acquisition of the islands as the outcome of the war, which the Soviet Union only joined when Japan was collapsing in 1945.
The abandonment of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty complicates the issue.
Lavrov said there was a “certain link” between the islands and the Cold War treaty, according to Kremlin mouthpiece Tass.
He mentioned that Japan was planning to install a US land-based Aegis Ashore missile defence system, the state-controlled agency reported.
Shikotan. The Kurils see little Russian development. Picture credit: Wikimedia