Japan tried to buy isles before Soviet collapse: Ozawa

JIJI

Japan tried to buy the four disputed islands off Hokkaido from the former Soviet Union as proposed by an aide to then-President Mikhail Gorbachev, opposition leader Ichiro Ozawa said Saturday.

On an Internet program, Ozawa said that when he was secretary general of the Liberal Democratic Party, then in power at the time, he was approached by an aide to the Soviet leader with an offer to return the islands to Japan for money.

Ozawa, now leader of Seikatsu no To (People’s Life Party), said that he got the Finance Ministry to disburse “some trillion yen” and later visited Moscow.

However, Gorbachev ultimately ruled out the sale, saying that although somebody may have made such a proposal, he could not approve it, Ozawa said.

Ozawa did not reveal any further details but is believed to have attempted to close the deal before Gorbachev made his landmark visit to Japan in April 1991.

After the Soviet Union collapsed in December 1991, Russian officials stated that it was in fact Ozawa who offered to buy the islands.

The Russian-held islands — Kunashiri, Etorofu, Shikotan and the Habomai islet group — were seized from Japan by Soviet troops in the closing days of World War II.

The wrangling over their ownership has prevented Japan and Russia from signing a peace treaty to formally end wartime hostilities.