Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin will hold talks about the longest-running and unsolved international dispute in the world on Tuesday.
The Kuril Islands, referred to as the Southern Kurils by Russia and the Northern Territories by Japan, were apprehended by the Soviet Union after Japan’s surrender to Allied Forces in 1945.
Both sides have been unable to find a peaceful solution to the disagreement over who is the rightful owner of the island group.
The islands are located off the coast of Japan’s most northern island Hokkaido and consist of four separated islands.
While Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev offered to return the two smallest Kuril Islands to Japan in 1956 in exchange for a peace treaty, Tokyo signed a military alliance with Washington which halted further negotiations.
The two governments meet on Tuesday to push signing a new treaty based on the 1956 peace declaration.
The territorial dispute was raised before of Abe’s visit to Moscow this week to meet with Putin.
However, Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s top diplomat, has toned down the chance of the island chain returning to Japan. When he and Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono met last week in Moscow, Russia’s foreign ministry said to Japan that “…sovereignty over the islands was non-negotiable…” according to Russian state media.
Also, Lavrov called the island dispute ownership an “outcome” of World War II and said that there were “significant differences” between the two nations’ perspectives. He yet invited joint cooperation on the issue while Prime Minister Abe has also urged for joint cooperation.
Japanese Foreign Minister Kono stated that he hoped that 2019 would be a “turning point” for determining the island’s legal status.
The meeting was the first time that the two ministers met since being appointed by the two countries’ leaders.
On Sunday, several hundred Russian nationalists protested on Moscow’s streets – chanting “(The) Kurils are Russian land!” – demanding from the government to stand firm on the issue.
Vladimir Zhirinovskii, leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia faction used the negotiations to enflame critique. He said that Japan should expel US forces and sign a peace treaty with Russia – excluding the Kuril Islands – if it wishes to develop bilateral ties.
“Where the Russian flag hangs, it will always hang…” he said and suggested to send troops on Japanese soil.
He added: “Then let’s conduct joint military exercises. Let’s see what the Japanese navy, the Russian navy are worth, maybe we will drop the landing troops on one of the Japanese islands, let them see how our guys successfully land on Japanese soil”.
At the end of World War II, approximately 17,000 Japanese citizens were expelled from the islands. Around 19,000 settlers currently live on the islands.
According to the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ website, the Kuril Islands “are an inherent part of the territory of Japan, which have never been held by foreign countries. However, the Northern Territories have been under illegal occupation by the Soviet Union, and then Russia, since the Soviet Union occupied them in 1945.”
According to the Japanese ministry, its government “has energetically been continuing negotiations with Russia based on its basic policy of resolving the issue of the attribution of the four Northern Islands and concluding a peace treaty with Russia.”