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28 Jan, 2019 13:06

77% of Russians oppose giving Kuril Islands away to Japan, new poll finds

77% of Russians oppose giving Kuril Islands away to Japan, new poll finds

Russians are overwhelmingly against handing the four Kuril Islands over to Japan, while a sizeable number of people also oppose making concessions for the sake of signing a peace treaty with Tokyo, a new poll show.

Over three-quarters of Russian citizens gave a clear ‘no’ to the feared giveaway, according to a survey by VCIOM, Russia’s leading pollster. Only 14 percent support the handover, arguing that the unprecedented concession will pave the way to a long-awaited Russia-Japan peace treaty and help improve ties between the two neighbors. 

The poll comes as Moscow and Tokyo are stuck in the middle of renewed talks over the fate of the islands. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met last year to seek a solution to the territorial dispute, but to no avail.

Earlier this week, the Kremlin signaled that it will focus its efforts on reaching a peace deal with Japan. “Our major objective is not to give or get anything, but to sign a peace treaty [with Japan],” presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Rossiya-1 on Sunday.

The USSR and Japan ended World War II hostilities in 1945 with an armistice that was not followed by a formal peace treaty. Known in Japan as Iturup, Kunashir, Shikotan, and Habomai, the islands in the Sea of Okhotsk were handed over to the Soviet Union under the 1945 Potsdam Declaration.

In 1956, a non-binding declaration signed by Japan and the USSR envisaged the prospects of a sovereignty handover, though its wording is vague. Still, the document says the move would be possible only after the two sides sign a peace treaty.

Since then, Tokyo has tried to claim the four Russian Kuril Islands, known in Japan as the ‘Northern Territories’. Japan has also talked about the prospect of regaining sovereignty over the southernmost part of the archipelago, which includes Shikotan Island and Habomai.

Tokyo maintains that the territorial dispute should be resolved first. Moscow has repeatedly stated that the islands’ sovereignty cannot be a bargaining chip, and that the Kurils will remain Russian territory.

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