ROAR: Making “pirouettes” on the Kuril Islands

Vladimir Kremlev for RT
Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada has visited Moscow to find new ways of cooperation, but failed to make the two countries’ positions closer over the disputed Kuril Islands.

The media stress that Okada has informed Russian authorities about changes in Tokyo’s foreign policy since the Democratic Party came to power, the media said. Earlier, new Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama “promised to mend ties with Moscow,” Komsomolskaya Pravda daily noted.

However, “the Japanese authorities have sent a number of unfriendly signals,” the paper said. In November, Japan once again accused Russia of illegal occupation of the islands.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that Russia is ready for unconventional ways in solving the dispute. At the same time, during the visit the head of the Japanese Foreign Ministry tried “not to reveal his feelings,” Rossiyskaya Gazeta daily said. The Japanese usually lose their “mythical total calm when the question concerns the Kuril Islands,” the paper added.

On the eve of his visit to Moscow, Okada made it clear that “Tokyo is losing its patience,” the daily said. He also warned that Russia’s image in the eyes of Japanese will not change until the dispute is solved.

The paper explained this by the fact that “foreign islands are still attracting Japanese. Over the recent months, dozens if not hundreds of accusations of ‘illegal occupation’ have been addressed to Russia over recent months,” the daily said.

“A psychological attack” has been launched against Russia, but Moscow has made it clear that the only means of cooperation is to continue talks, the paper said. Despite good relations between the Russian and Japanese leaders, and Moscow’s need for investment, the dialogue does not mean that “one side will use ultimatums,” it added.

In Moscow, Okada once again repeated Tokyo’s position: “Japan links the development of political and economic dialogue with Russia to solving the problem of the Kuril Islands,” Rossiyskaya Gazeta said. But so far this link has not brought any result,” it added.

However, as the Japanese government is continuing to convince voters and itself that “the Japanese people do not trust Russians, businessmen one after another are increasingly developing the Russian market,” the daily said.

The two parties declare that they want to solve the issue “within a generation,” but nobody can say now what the final decision will look like, the paper noted. The negotiations have begun to make the positions of the two counties closer. The Russian and Japanese foreign ministers “have established a good contact” and even “deprived themselves of the privilege of speaking emotionally during a news conference in Moscow,” it added.

“We have very stable relations with Japan, and the relations are constantly mediocre,” Fedor Lukyanov, editor-in-chief of Russia in Global Affairs magazine, said. “The problem of the islands does not have a solution, at least in the near future,” he told website.

“Japan will not abandon its claims, and Russia, of course, will not change its position,” Lukyanov said. “Thus, one should not expect any breakthrough in this issue,” he added.

The new Japanese government has to “demonstrate its activity, but it is no more than pirouettes on very narrow ground,” he added. In fact, nothing is changing, and there is only “imitation of the development of events, which does not exist,” he said.

As this problem is more symbolic and “it influences the overall atmosphere of relations, this atmosphere is not improving,” Lukyanov said. This hampers the development of relations in other areas, including economic and political ones, he added. “So, I would not expect any changes in the near future,” he said.

Mikhail Neyzhmakov, head of the Center for International Politics at the Institute of Globalization and Social Movements, believes that the solution to the problem will not “take the form of transfer of the disputed territories to Tokyo.” And “the unconventional ways” mentioned by the Russian foreign minister do not imply exactly this, he added.

Even if a purely pragmatic approach is taken into account, Moscow will not receive preferences from Japan “equal to Russia’s territorial concessions,” the analyst said. And the economic ties are already developing despite the dispute, he added.

“In a political sense, Tokyo will be interested in some way in cooperation with Moscow, for example, just in a hope to partly counterbalance China’s influence in the region,” Neyzhmakov said. And here, Russia is ready “to meet the wishes of Japan” despite the cooperation with Beijing, he added.

“Most likely, against a background of continuing talks over the Kuril problem, Moscow and Tokyo will be looking for topics that will help them effectively cooperate in solving pragmatic tasks,” the analyst said.

This approach was demonstrated during the visit of Japanese foreign minister, Neyzhmakov noted. The two parties discussed several issues including cooperation in the framework of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum and the North Korean nuclear problem. A bilateral working group on Afghanistan will be created. At the same time, Okada’s visit to Russia might allow the Japanese government to find new ways of cooperation with Russia,” he said.

Meanwhile, Russian media reported about the decision of the Japanese government to remove from methodical materials the words about Russia’s occupation of the islands, which are called the Northern Territories in Japan. The materials will be used by teachers and authors of textbooks.

Additionally, the Japanese Foreign Ministry has decided to gradually declassify diplomatic documents on different issues, including those regarding talks with the Soviet Union and Russia over the Kuril Islands. A special commission will be established to supervise this process. However, the most important documents will not be transferred to the general archive of the ministry and declassified, the media say.

Sergey Borisov, RT