Photo: Kremlin/Associated Press Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono will visit Russia today to further negotiations over the sovereignty of the
Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono will visit Russia today to further negotiations over the sovereignty of the Kuril Islands.
Moscow and Tokyo have contested each other’s claims to the islands, which likely have oil and gas deposits, since they signed a 1956 peace treaty ending hostilities from WWII. Though this agreement did not specify which country would control the territory, Russia has occupied them since the Soviets seized them Japan. In November, Prime Minister Abe and President Putin reaffirmed their commitment to this agreement, de-escalating tensions but making little tangible progress.
However, last month Japan protested Russia’s building of barracks and stationing some 3,500 troops on the islands, reigniting tensions. The ongoing dispute prevents bilateral cooperation between the two countries; Japan desires further access to Russian oil and gas reserves, while Russia seeks Japanese investment.
Despite the mutually beneficial outcomes of cooperation, do not expect meaningful progress on the Kuril Islands dispute in the medium-term. Moscow’s control over the islands provides a buffer to American influence that it is unlikely to concede. Meanwhile, the return of the Kuril Islands remains an important issue to the Japanese public—compromise by Tokyo would represent an unacceptable defeat.
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