Japan: Putin’s visit to Tokyo may settle Kuril Islands dispute

ARCHIVE PHOTO: Russia's President Vladimir Putin (R) and Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (Reuters / Kyodo)
Tokyo has signaled it would like Vladimir Putin to finally resolve a territorial dispute and sign a peace treaty 70 years after the end of World War II. The Kremlin said it would welcome dialogue.

Moscow is willing to restart peaceful dialogue with Tokyo to finally sign a WWII peace treaty, but Russian FM Sergey Lavrov said that claiming sovereignty over Kuril Islands makes Japan the only country that questions the results of WWII.

Masahiko Komura, the current vice president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party of Japan and a former foreign minister, met in Tokyo with the Chairman of the Russian State Duma, Sergey Naryshkin, on Wednesday.

During the meeting, Komura said that Tokyo would like to settle the issue of the four southern Kuril Islands.

READ MORE: Russia builds up, modernizes military on disputed Kuril Islands

“We would like to sign a peace treaty having the territorial problem solved. For this we would like President Putin to come to Japan,” said Komura, adding that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is “very seriously considering” inviting him.

“Just like before, we absolutely welcome the constructive attitude of various political parties and forces of Japan to restart peace negotiations with Russia,” said the Russian president’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov.

Peskov also said that at the moment “there is no news regarding the issue” of President Vladimir Putin’s possible visit to Japan.

Japan’s Foreign Ministry announced plans to organize a visit by the Russian president by the end of this year. A previous visit, scheduled for autumn 2014, was disrupted due to Tokyo’s support for the American-led anti-Russian diplomatic campaign.

Japanese diplomats also revealed that in April PM Shinzo Abe made US President Barack Obama aware of the Russian leader’s possible visit.

The Kremlin has welcomed Tokyo’s openness to renewing the dialogue and would certainly consider Japan’s invitation for Putin to visit, Peskov said.

On Tuesday, commenting on the disputed island issue, Lavrov said Japan was the only country that questioned the outcome of WWII.

“We always ask the Japanese: Dear gentlemen, do you recognize the results of WWII? They answer: "Yes, we do – but not in this particular issue,” Lavrov said, demanding how in this case could Tokyo possibly ratify the UN Statute.

Article 107 of the UN Statute maintains that everything done by the winning nations in World War II is “sacrosanct and inviolable.”

“Though it is spelled out in different words, the legal meaning is as follows – do not touch anything,” Lavrov said, adding that since Tokyo has nothing to object to in the UN Statute, “Japan is the only country that disputes the results of WWII, nobody else does it.”

READ MORE: Japan targets Russia's biggest banks, arms exports in new sanctions

The Japanese government disagreed with Lavrov, however.

“The results of WWII between Russia and Japan are not distinguished,” said Yoshihide Suga, Chief Cabinet Secretary, adding that the Russian foreign minister’s statement was “devoid of substance.”

Suga expressed confidence that Lavrov’s statement would not interfere with the meeting of the Russian and Japanese leaders.

“We’re going to persevere in the continuation of negotiations to resolve the [territorial] allegiance of the islands and sign a peace treaty,” Suga said.

For the 70 years that have passed since the end of WWII, Russia and Japan have been unable to sign a peace treaty, though the countries have been coexisting peacefully.

Diplomatic relations remain tense as Japan refuses to sign a peace treaty, presenting sovereignty claims over several small islands known as South Kurils in Russia and as the Northern Territories in Japan. The Islands are Kunashir, Shikotan, Iturup and arches of Habomai.

READ MORE: ‘Ali Baba’s cave’: UN declares Russian sovereignty over resource-rich Sea of Okhotsk enclave

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Because of loose definitions in the international treaties signed at the end of the war, Tokyo demands the return of the islands, which were captured by Soviet troops in 1945. Russia insists the islands became a part of the USSR after the war and therefore Russian sovereignty over this territory cannot be revised.

The talks on a peace treaty were suspended in 2003.

Despite all the odds, investment and trade between the countries had been constantly developing until Tokyo joined the US-led anti-Russian sanctions in September 2014 over Moscow’s alleged involvement in the Ukraine crisis. Japanese sanctions against Russia targeted leading arms exporters and limited operations with five Russian top banks, including Sberbank ,VTB, Gazprombank, Rosselkhozbank and VEB (Vnesheconombank).

The issue of the southern Kuril Islands should also be considered in the light of the decision of a UN maritime commission in March 2014, which confirmed that 52,000 square kilometers in the middle of the Sea of Okhotsk in the Far East is now Russian continental shelf.

READ MORE: Far East bonanza: Resource-rich Sea of Okhotsk all Russian, UN confirms

The Sea of Okhotsk, a natural border to which from the south are the Kuril Islands, is extremely rich in natural resources and hydrocarbon reserves, thus presenting enormous opportunities for the Russian economy.

The UN decision has also become possible because all of the Kuril Islands currently belong to Russia.