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Contested territory

Alexander Panov: Under the current policy of Tokyo, the Kuril issue will never be solved

Vladimir Putin was ready to consider the possibility of a compromise, but the Japanese side began to issue ultimatums.

Contested territory

70 years ago, the USSR, faithful to its obligations, given at the Yalta and Potsdam conferences, joined with militaristic Japan in the war. It lasted only a little over two weeks, but left unresolved issues. One of them is the Kuril issue. Japan demands to give her the 4 islands of the South Kurile ridge: Iturup, Kunashir, Shikotan and Habomai. Russia rejects this demand.

The other day it was announced that Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev is going to visit the Kurils in the near future. In Tokyo, reacted sharply, calling such a trip "unacceptable." However, the Russian Foreign Ministry said that Moscow is not going to take into account Japan's position in forming the working schedule of members of the government.

On whether it is possible to solve the "Kuril problem", said Professor of Moscow State Institute of International Relations, former ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary of the Russian Federation in Japan Alexander PANOV.

- In February 1945 at the Crimean Conference, Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill agreed that after the defeat of Japan, the USSR will withdraw the southern part of the island of Sakhalin, which our country lost during the Russian-Japanese war in 1905, and all the Kuril Islands. And in 1952, Japan, which signed the San Francisco Treaty, seems to have accepted this. So what's the problem?

- Probably, we need to go back deeper into history and understand why Japan insists on the transfer of the four islands. Back in 1855, when the first treaty between our countries was signed, at the direction of the tsar, the Russian negotiator, Admiral Putiatin, proposed to draw the border so that these four islands for which Japan now claims - Habomai, Shikotan, Kunashir and Iturup - remained with Japan, and all the other Kuriles - for Russia. Sakhalin was not divided, because they simply did not know how. In 1875, Russia offered Japan to take all the Kuril Islands, and instead recognize that Sakhalin is Russian. So agreed. But then the war broke out 1904-05, Japan received as a winner the southern part of Sakhalin Island. And this situation persisted until the 1945 year.

One of the conditions for the entry of the USSR into the war with Japan was to receive all the Kuril Islands and South Sakhalin. Our troops took control of these territories. But while a peace treaty was being prepared with Japan, relations between the Soviet Union and the United States worsened, and as a result, the Americans withdrew from the text of the treaty a passage that these territories come under the jurisdiction of the Soviet Union. There, such a trick was made - it is said that the territories are taken from Japan, but it is not clear to whom they are being transferred.

Moreover, at the San Francisco Conference, the Japanese said that they were abandoning the Kuril Islands, but, allegedly, the islands of Iturup, Kunashir, Shikotan and Habomai are not Kuril - this is, so to speak, a separate territory that should belong to them. This reservation was not legally binding. But Japan and I did not sign a peace treaty and did not have official relations up to the 1956 year.

- Just in October 1956 Nikita Khrushchev signed with Tokyo a joint declaration, according to which the USSR pledged to transfer to her the islands of Habomai and Shikotan after the conclusion of a peace treaty with Japan - such a concession. But this did not happen. Why?

- At the talks, the Japanese suddenly started demanding that they return to South Sakhalin and all the Kuriles, and then - softened and asked to return the four islands. The Soviet side, trying to find some compromise, offered Japan to take two islands - Habomai and Shikotan, but only after the conclusion of the peace treaty. The Japanese continued to insist on all four islands, so the peace treaty was not concluded, but the Declaration was signed, which formally bears the character of a peace treaty. And this agreement was ratified by the parliaments of both countries and is still the basic document for the development of bilateral relations.

- Alexander Nikolayevich, years later you participated in the negotiations of the USSR President Mikhail Gorbachev with the Japanese during his official visit to Tokyo in 1991. What happened there then, why did not Gorbachev recognize the declaration of 1956, because you advised him the opposite?

- The fact is that in 1960, Japan signed the Treaty on Cooperation and Security with the United States. The Soviet Union said that under the conditions when Japan is signing an agreement on which US troops are located near the territory of the USSR, there can be no talk of the transfer of islands, even the two mentioned in the declaration of 1956. Since then, the Soviet Union has not recognized the 9 territorial article of the Declaration.

In addition, Gorbachev's positions were greatly weakened at that time, he was afraid that if he went to such a concession, he would give two islands to Japan, then this could be costly to him politically.

- As far as I know, you advised not only Gorbachev, but also Vladimir Putin on the Kuril issue. How did the president treat your advice and what is his position on whether to transfer the islands of Japan?

- Vladimir Putin is the only head of our country who personally got acquainted with the sources of documents of our relations with Japan, including the Declaration of 1956. He, as a lawyer, having read the Declaration and received the relevant comments, came to the conclusion that in accordance with the ninth article (and there it refers to the transfer of the two islands after the conclusion of the peace treaty), our country is ready to follow its obligations. But first you need to negotiate - under what conditions, when and in what form can the transfer of islands be carried out. This was a great compromise step on the part of Russia. But Japan again said that no, we are supposed to be ready to negotiate only if we are talking about the four islands. This is in fact an ultimatum, but on such a basis it is impossible to agree.

- Do you think that relations between Russia and Japan resemble, figuratively speaking, the swing - either warming or cooling again. And, sort of like, we try to come to some kind of compromise, but Japan still goes against it. Perhaps, simply Tokyo, such a position is advantageous, so that, if anything, to “cling” to this territorial question, what do you think?

- You are absolutely right. After many years of negotiations with the Japanese on this issue, my deep conviction is that the majority of the country's political elite are not interested in resolving this issue, because it serves as a regulator of relations. When the Japanese need to exert some kind of pressure on Russia, they remember the territorial issue, and when they have a certain interest in developing some kind of relationship, especially economic, they forget about it. Even at a time when the Soviet Union did not recognize the existence of a territorial problem at all, in 70 they went to the large-scale development of economic projects in Siberia and the Far East.

We must understand: Japan is very dependent on the United States, and the United States is not interested in having this problem solved. It has happened more than once that the US intervened in our negotiations on the territorial issue. Even now, an interesting situation: Japan wants Vladimir Putin to come to the end of the year with a visit, but before negotiating on this matter, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe should get the consent of the "Seven." Americans, it seems, did not even give such consent, but he received such approval from Merkel and Olland. It is clear that Japan itself does not make decisions.

"Let's say we give Habomai and Shikotan." You know, they write a lot about the fact that there are large deposits of radium, tritium, besides, it is a very rich fish region. So, what do we lose if we give these territories?

- Habomai - it's eight small islands, rocks, no one lives there, there's nothing there. Shikotan is an island larger, but there are also no resources there. Minerals are on Iturup, Kunashir.

Yes, the region is very rich in fish. Here, if hypothetically the transfer of the islands of Japan occurs, the question arises of how to regulate fishery issues. The fact is that now our poachers are actively operating there. They catch fish, crabs, sea urchins bring products to Japan, hand over and immediately receive money - annually about 1,5-2 billion dollars. It turns out that we, owning these territories, do not get anything from them, fish and sea delicacies do not reach Russian stalls.

- I understand that nobody likes to make predictions, but still, how, in your opinion, and when can a territorial dispute with Japan be resolved?

- This question has been asked for more than 60 years, it seems, have tried all possible solutions, but, in my opinion, there are no prospects. This question can be solved only by political means. But for that there should be a completely different atmosphere of bilateral relations, and not the same as now, when Japan followed the United States adopted sanctions against Russia? In the near future, the decision will not be exact.

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