Putin says isle talks in air after Ukraine sanctions

JIJI, Kyodo

Russian President Vladimir Putin said he is surprised that Tokyo slapped sanctions on Moscow over the Ukraine crisis and questioned whether Japan is ready to hold negotiations over four disputed islands off Hokkaido, Interfax news agency reported.

Putin made the remarks to the media in St. Petersburg, according to Interfax. In step with its Group of Seven partners, Japan imposed sanctions on Russia after it annexed Crimea.

The president was quoted as saying that it surprised him to know Japan joined sanctions on Russia and that he is not sure whether Japan has suspended the negotiations over the four Russian-held isles.

But Putin said at the same time that Moscow is ready for the territorial negotiations, and that the two countries could still reach a compromise over the long-running dispute if they follow the spirit of “hikiwake,” a Japanese sports term for a draw.

Putin said the sovereignty of two of the disputed isles, Shikotan and the Habomai islets, is on the agenda for bilateral talks because the 1956 Japan-Soviet Joint Declaration did not address the issue.

Putin has shown a willingness to visit Japan as early as this fall at the invitation of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. However, the plan may be affected by strains over Crimea.

The disputed islands — Etorofu, Kunashiri, Shikotan and the Habomai islet group, which in Russia are known as the Southern Kurils — were seized by the Soviet Union following Japan’s surrender in World War II on Aug. 15, 1945. The subsequent sovereignty row has prevented the two countries from signing a formal peace treaty.

  • Jay Wilson

    It has been said that “By rejecting Medvedev’s offer for a free trade/free movement zone in the Kurils, Tokyo has damaged the Japanese Psyche and belittled its own blood sacrifice”. I find this to be untrue, as you might well guess. How has it damaged “the Japanese Psyche and belittled its own blood sacrifice”? I do not see how it has as this is more Russian Anti-Japanese propaganda aimed at telling Japan that ,Agree to our terms and accept the scraps of what we took from you or we will militarise more of the Kurils and you will get nothing, which is what you were always going to get”.

    If Japan were to station Self Defence Forces on Hokkaido or on Rebun or Rishiri island, in Nemuro or on the northern most point on Hokkaido, then the Russians would raise holy hell about it and call it “Unacceptable”, “a provocation” or “a threat to the peace of the region” yet the Russians can station Buk-M1 surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems, modern communications systems and heavy armour, including a battalion of T-80 tanks, and Mistral-class amphibious assault ships there and claim that this will “guarantee security for the Russian territory from sea, air and land”.

    The Russians have suggested at previous meetings that the Japanese leadership should change its approach to the problem of a peace treaty between the two countries and prioritize the economy. Which if you put the subtitles on, you get “Japan should invest in the islands to improve the lives of the Russians living there as Japan will not even get the two islands promised to them previously”. Can anyone honestly say that if Japan invested in the islands as Moscow keeps asking them to, that it would lead to a resolution in the territorial dispute? The answer is: No, it would not.

    Valentina Petrenko, a member of the Russian Duma has suggested that Japan has taken an unfriendly stance towards Russia. Well, when Russia violates Japanese airspace and supports China ans South Korea against Japan in their territorial disputes with those countries, of course Japan will not act friendly towards Russia. “Our country has every right to be called a superpower. Japan will not be able to promote relations with Russia if it [Japan] keeps insisting that these disputed islands belong to it”. Japan will keep claiming the islands until the dispute is finally solved.

    Now this statement sums up the problem entirely: “Russia insists the islands became a part of the USSR after the war and therefore Russian sovereignty over this territory cannot be revised”. If Russia holds this statement up to be the standard, what hope has Japan got of ever regaining some/all of the islands? This next passage is taken from Wikipedia:

    Russia has said it is open to a negotiated “solution” to the island dispute while declaring that the legality of its own claim to the islands is not open to question. In other words, Japan would first have to recognize Russia’s right to the islands and then try to acquire some or all of them through negotiations.

    What I want to do now is to prove why the above passage is total and utter nonsense. The first part of the passage “Russia has said it is open to a negotiated “solution” to the island dispute while declaring that the legality of its own claim to the islands is not open to question” Which if you look at it, means “The islands are ours, and you will not get any of them back”. The second part of the segment “Japan would first have to recognize Russia’s right to the islands and then try to acquire some or all of them through negotiations” is contradicted by the first part of the segment. This is typical Russian behaviour when dealing with the dispute. They say they will “discuss it” and “arrange for peace talks in a more favourable atmosphere” which means that they want to talk about it and that Japan will not get one square foot of the islands back. And if Japan did “Recognise Russia’s right to the islands” then they would never get any of them back as Russia would have Japan’s acknowledgement of Russian sovereignty over them.

    A member of the Duma, Valentina Petrenko took things a step further by suggesting Japan has taken an unfriendly stance towards Russia and has said “Our country has every right to be called a superpower. Japan will not be able to promote relations with Russia if it [Japan] keeps insisting that these disputed islands belong to it”. I have asked this before, but other than dropping the claims and aside from trade and diplomatic relations, how on earth can Japan act in a friendly way towards Moscow? Dmitry Medvedev, while President, had reiterated Russia’s position: “Russia is ready to cooperate with Japan but we should not renounce our territory, the South Kurils, Japan should reconsider its vision of the Kurils”. This also proves that Russia has no intention of turning over any of the islands to Japan.

    When the Japanese visit the graves of their ancestors on the Kuril Islands, the Russians do not exactly make them feel welcome, as on the ferry over to the islands, loud and obnoxious patriotic Russian music is blared out, and when the Japanese are praying at the graves of their ancestors, there are armed guards standing nearby. Although I am loathed to say anything positive about the Russians, this is about the only nice thing the Russians have ever done that is friendly towards Japan.

    The islands were seized by the Soviet Union after it declared war on Japan in August 9, 1945 , thus breaking the non-aggression pact. The seizure of the islands took place days before Japan surrendered, forcing about 17,000 Japanese to flee. They are near rich fishing grounds. The dispute has prevented Russia and Japan from concluding a peace treaty and clouded ties ever since. It is well known that the 1956 deal was sunk by the USA. Japan was going to agree to the terms of 2 out of the 4 island. America then intervened and said if Japan went ahead with the deal, they would lose Okinawa, so it is understandable as to why Japan refused this deal. The deal was offered again in 1960, but the Russians abrogated it when Japan signed the Security Alliance with the US.

    Frequently Russia has signalled that Japan should focus on economic relations and not get too hung up on the islands. The Kremlin has repeated, more than once, its message that a solution to the territorial dispute is not a prerequisite for increased trade. “The Russian side proceeds from the position that dialogue (on a peace treaty) should be held in a calm, respectful atmosphere in parallel with the development of the entire range of Russo-Japanese relations” President Putin’s press service has said. I fail to see how increased trade between Moscow and Tokyo will solve this territorial dispute

    Last week, Japanese Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroshige Seko told Reuters that one aim was “to convince Russia of the merits of having a good long-term relationship with Japan” & “Through forming strong personal ties between the leaders, we want to make Russia feel that by quickly solving the Northern Territories issue, Japan can contribute to the development of Russia and Siberia in particular” Seko said. This is proof that Japan is willing to be flexible on the return of the islands.

    Aside from Russian stubbornness, it has been said that the dispute will not be settled as Prime Minister Abe is pushing for a revival of Japanese nationalism. It has been said that his ultimate his goal is to rewrite the constitution that was set upon Japan by America after WW2; once they are freed from American, they will restart their aggressiveness again. This is a partial truth. Prime Minister Abe does want to rewrite the constitution to remove Article 9 and allow Japan to have a proper army, air-force and navy instead of just the Self Defence Forces. If this happened, it would allow Japan to respond quicker to border violations by the Russians, and China.

    there is not one slightest sign that the Russians are willing to give even an inch on the northern territories back to Japan. Though some in Russia have suggested that Russia keeps the island and and then share resources with Japan in the proportional amounts. This has been suggested but will not actually happen as it is another example of Russia using the carrot-&-stick method when it comes to Japan and the territorial dispute. It is believed that one of the reason this dispute is dragging on for so long is that Russia is still hacked off because America didn’t need them to close the war with Japan and was not allowed any part in the occupation of the Home Islands. Experts have also suggested that Moscow is leaning toward the old 1956 formula, which would involve giving two of the islands back to Japan, again this is another example of the “carrot-&-stick” method.

    This issue has been talked to death by experts in both Japan and Russia and literally dozens of different plans have been floated over the years. The Russian plans all center on Russia keeping all of the islands and either wanting Japanese investment or using them as a free trade/free movement zone. The Japanese plans all center on a territorial concession, which I think is the most likely outcome, even if Russia were to reject all other plans and only offer Japan the 2-island solution. It has been said before that Japan IS willing to invest in the islands, but not before the territorial dispute is settled.

    While some may criticise the Japanese position, at least they have been consistent while Russia’s official attitude has see-sawed ever since 1956. Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev’s insisted in the 1970s that “there is no such territorial dispute” over the Kurils, even as the last Soviet president, Mikhail Gorbachev, admitted in 1990 that “the problem exists.”. Both Medvedev and Putin have said, at different times, that “Russia insists the islands became a part of the USSR after the war and therefore Russian sovereignty over this territory cannot be revised” if this is the Russian position, then there can be no settlement to the territorial dispute as it would seem that Russia is not willing to cede any territory to Japan, not even the two islands closest to Hokkaido that it previously promised.

    Speaking before a rally in Tokyo, known in Japan as the Day of Northern Territories, the Japanese leader reaffirmed his country’s determination to settle the dispute with Moscow. “The Japanese government will continue to pursue the settlement of the territorial issues with a strong will” Abe said, as quoted by RIA Novosti. “We aim to finally resolve the problem with Russia on the disputed islands, which will finally determine the ownership of the islands and realize the signing of a peace treaty”. This is further proof that Japan is willing to negotiate on the return of some or all of the islands. But this looks unlike as their was a reported incursion of two Russian TU submarine warfare jets into Japanese airspace, and the scrambling of F-15 by Japan as reported by RT, while Abe was in Russia having talks with Putin, is not a coincidence, it most certainly sends an aggressive, but subtle signal to Japan and could not have happened without approval from Putin. If Japan were to do the same, Moscow would be up in arms over the “Japanese provocation”.

    I have previously said that Russia should stop pestering Japan for investment in the disputed islands, and in an attempt to lure Japanese investment, Russia has given several “concessions” to Japan in the dispute. For example, Russia has introduced visa-free trips for Japanese citizens to the Kuril Islands. Japan’s fishermen are also allowed to catch fish in Russia’s exclusive economic zone. It has also been suggested that Japan should cooperate with Russia over hydrocarbons exploration, and co-operate in a number of areas, including fishing and security. These are all in an attempt to get Japan to drop its claim to the islands. Although Prime Minister Abe and Russia’s Putin have got together, all Russia has agreed to do is to discuss to have meetings.

    When he was President, Medvedev warned that “ceding territory to Tokyo would lead to the disintegration of the Russian state”. Well, that is a load of rubbish for a start, they managed to cede the Baltic states without disintegrating and solved a border dispute with China without disintegrating.

    The only way forward is for offer Japan the 2-island solution and this time, actually go through with the transfer instead of backing out at th

    • Roppi

      @ Jay Wilson – thank you for that excellent insight into this unfortunate/complex situation – I have certainly increased my understanding of it..and Russia’s continuing attempt (like China) to leverage ‘winning’ a war that finished almost 70 years ago..

      • Jay Wilson

        I’m glad you liked it

    • 151E

      From a realpolitik vantage, the Russians are entering into negations from a position of strength – they are, after all, in possession of the islands – whereas Japan has little to no leverage. And Russia’s attitude towards the Kurils is no different from Japan vis-à-vis the Senkakus, or Korea vis-à-vis the Liancourt Rocks. I agree that the most promising way forward is the 2-island solution; however, I’d refer you to another article in The Japan Times – Flexibility key to resolving Japan’s territorial disputes – which seems to refute your claim the Japanese maintaing a consistent position on the dispute (though admittedly only under duress from their American allies).

      • Jay Wilson

        Russia has hardly maintained a flexible approach to the dispute either

  • Christopher Glen

    Japan should take the over and be done with it. After all, have they made a similar offer to China regarding the Diaoyu islands? Russia is being more than generous

    • Christopher Glen

      offer, not over

  • Jay Wilson

    The Senkaku Islands are Japanese territory and is nothing like the dispute with Moscow