Russia seeks change in Japanese approach to Kuril Islands

Solidified volcanic lava after the eruption of the volcano Bohdan Khmelnytsky on Iturup Island in the Great Kuril Islands. (RIA Novosti / Sergey Krasnouhov)
Japan’s government has expressed its regret over Russian security chief Nikolay Patrushev’s working visit to the Kuril Islands, which have long been a subject of a bitter dispute between the two states.

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura told a press conference in Tokyo on Monday that "This runs counter to our country's position and causes sincere regret," cites Itar-Tass. Japan considers a visit by a key Russian government official to the Northern Territories – as the Kuril Islands are known by the Japanese – “unacceptable”.

Fujimura also noted that the two countries “intend – based on all the previously-reached agreements – to resolve the territorial dispute and conclude a peace treaty.”

The status of the four Kuril Islands – Kunashir, Shikotan, the Khabomai Rocks and Iturup – has been the major stumbling block in the signing of the Moscow-Tokyo peace agreement following WWII, after which the Soviet Union – and subsequently Russia – took control over the archipelago.

The statement was made a day after Russia’s Security Council Secretary Nikolay Patrushev visited the Kurils on Sunday. In the town of Yuzhno-Kurilsk on Kunashir he chaired a meeting with the local government on security in the region and on the construction of several civil and border infrastructure facilities.

The official also met with the leadership of the Russian Federal Security border guard service and inspected a frontier post on the island of the Tanfilieva, which is only 4 kilometers away from Japan.

According to the Security Council’s press service, Patrushev also held a meeting with the antiterrorist commission of the Sakhalin Region, which focused on such topics as ensuring the protection of citizens during public events, as well as the security of socially important and potentially dangerous objects.

On Friday, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov had a phone conversation with his newly-appointed Japanese counterpart Koichiro Gemba. Lavrov underlined that the negotiations on a peace treaty should be held in a calm atmosphere, without preconditions and unilateral historic linkages, the Foreign Ministry’s press service reported.

Such talks should beaccompanied "not by Japaneseofficials' statements that Russia has no legal grounds to possess the Southern Kuril Islands, which are unacceptable to our country, but by broad bilateral co-operation in all areas," cited Interfax. The Russian side is ready to develop such co-operation, including by continuing to help Japan to overcome the aftermath of the devastating earthquake in March this year.

Gemba thanked Moscow for the aid it had already provided and, also, stressed the importance of relations with Russia for Japan.

Moscow has repeatedly voiced its position over the South Kurils, saying that its sovereignty over the territories is irrefutable. Tokyo, however, insists that the islands belong to them.

Earlier in February, President Dmitry Medvedev ordered the deployment of weaponry on the Kuril Islands that could be sufficient to guarantee security of the region. The Russian leader noted that Moscow wants to maintain good relations with its neighbors, as long as they understand the islands’ priority position in the region. He stressed that the Kurils are an integral part of Russia.

The dispute over the South Kurils has been going on for decades, but has especially intensified after President Medvedev’s visit to Kunashir, on November 1, 2010.