The expedition of the Russian Geographical Society is exploring the depth of Japan’s penetration into the Kuril Islands.
Written by Grigory Yakovlev; Originally appeared at VPK, translated by Mona Lita exclusively for SouthFront
One of the topics in the talks with Vladimir Putin and a Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was a peace treaty between Russia and Japan. This is not the first and certainly not the last summit meeting, dedicated to the problem of territorial differentiation.
The core of the dispute narrows down to the fact that the Japanese government and politicians are imposing unsubstantiated claims on our country for “northern territories”, which is what some understand are the four southern Kuril Islands, others – the whole archipelago, and some of the other ones think it is also South Sakhalin. There are legal grounds for this – a failure by the Soviet Union to sign the San Francisco Treaty of 1953, in which Tokyo declines territorial claims, Krushchev’s possible offer to hand over two of the four islands. At this time, neither party is assuming that the other will give up its position; therefore there is no solution to the problem.
The Price of Kuril Islands
According to the Russian military leadership, our country’s ownership of the Kuril chain, especially the four southern islands is quite essential. The location of the straits in between them is the shortest exit way from the Sea of Okhotsk to the Pacific Ocean.
No one is able to answer, where a huge amount of military equipment brought over to the island by the Japanese go, and what was the reason for building a road that leads to the top of an active volcano
The economic argument is also of considerable importance. The overall mineral resource price by international stock price standards is at least $ 44.05 billion. This included gold, silver, zinc, copper, lead, iron, titanium, vanadium, agate and sulfur. Here, about 1.2 million tons of fish is caught annually, while the Baltic countries catch 340 thousand tons. For Russia, giving four islands over to Japan will result in a volume decrease of caught fish throughout the Far East by more than a third. In monetary terms, this is no less than $ 2 billion.
With regards to giving in to Japanese claims on the part of the Russian leadership, the conditions that prevail in the Kremlin and the balance of power behind its walls makes it even more unlikely to do so than in the past years. As the events of the last decade showed, the territorial dispute of the two sides has entered a dead end, and both parties see no escape.
From the very beginning, the issue demanding the return of Kuril Islands and southern Sakhalin became state policy and a standard course of any government in Japan. It would be unjustifiably naïve to seek such a daredevil in the country of the Rising Sun, who decided to cause confrontation with society and give up at least one position from the list of territorial claims. Traditionally, the very system of education and training of Japanese political figures and diplomats has an anti-Russian orientation and a belief that any claims to the northern neighbor will yield positive solution sooner or later.
In exchange for the golden rain
It is a mistake for some Russian political figures to believe that in order to improve the relationship with Japan and for it to agree to infuse financial means into the Russian business in the Far East that it is necessary to give in territorially. Reportedly, this move will also provide access to technologies in electronics, manufacturing and some other areas. The advocates of such an approach believe that negotiations with Japan should not be conducted from a position of strength and persistence in upholding Russia’s territorial integrity, but by being ready to yield and consequently put forward new proposals of political and economic nature, which will soften the Japanese assertion and will accelerate the completion of a peace treaty. It is forgotten that Tokyo’s actions in reality are not so much determined by willful decisions of ministers and diplomats, but more by wishes of the all powerful leaders of the business world.
A characteristic point in the world community last time revealed that this community is not showing a significant interest in Russia and Japan talks on the issue of territorial domain. For example, this is how the representative of the “Twenty” summit held in Toronto in July 2010 concluded that Tokyo has a rather shaky position on obtaining at least two southern islands, as there is a lot of evidence to suggest: no distinctions were made between North and South Chishima (Kuril) Islands.
If we turn to the International Court of UN or similar legal body, then it will likely be awarded the rights to Shikotan and Habomai, which Russia was willing to give anyway under certain circumstances. Moreover, the potential economic benefits that Russia will receive from settling the dispute are minimal. There are many other reasons, the West believes, why Moscow does not wish to fulfill Tokyo’s request and give up all of the islands. Therefore, the main obstacle to resolution of this dispute is Japan’s reluctance to compromise on a question of how vast of a territory Russia must return. But the current Japanese government is weak and is having to deal with more pressing issues, such as relations with the U.S. and China. Therefore, a change in course is unlikely.
When assessing the impact of the territorial dispute on the Japanese-Russian relations themselves, the representatives of the West pointed out that it was minimal. It was like this during the Cold War. The bilateral trade continued without regard to the territorial issue.
But the Japanese are not losing hope that sooner or later in Russia, leaders like Khrushchev, Yeltsin or Gorbachev may come to power, and who contrary to public opinion will go against people’s wishes, and make a “gesture of goodwill” and give away all the islands demanded or at least a part of them.
A time for new discoveries
In response to pressure from Japan, Russia’s political and military leadership is taking concrete, sometimes defiant measures, when the Russian foreign minister notices that the Russian Federation is ready to conduct substantive talks on cooperation in the economic field and a mutual use of some islands for territorial development.
On February 18th of this year, at the media club meeting of the Russian Geographical Society, its president Sergei Shoigu was talking about some of the most colorful projects in 2016. There is a planned expedition to the island of Mata, which is located in the center of the Kuril chain. The Japanese have transformed this piece of land into a real fortress before World War II. “There are many mysteries. To this day no one is able to answer what happened to the huge amount of military equipment that was brought to the island. Also, there is not answer to the question of why a road that leads to the top of an active volcano was built”, – reminded the minister.
Sergei Shoigu mentioned that there were many fortified structures left on the island, such as tunnels, mines and pillboxes. In order to explore some of these, divers will be included in the expedition, since entrances to these underground labyrinths are located under water. There are two runways that are heated by hot springs that arouse curiosity. It is assumed that they are still operable. “At least we think so, until we get there”.
It is well known that the Russian Ministry of Defense has made up a group of advisers who will explore the possibility of creating a Naval Base on one of the Kuril Islands with all of its consequences: berth construction for Pacific Fleet warships, construction of a modern airport with a runway for grounding tactical and bomber aircraft, a powerful air defense system and a communications hub.
Clearly, Russia does not intend to give up the islands. And lets not forget: among Japanese territorial claims, the Kurils are not on the first place. Japan does not hide the fact that its current growth of military expenditure is directly related to China becoming stronger and its claims to an oil-rich Senkaku archipelago – a territory Beijing is contending for. This attempt by China “to forcefully change the status quo in the East China and South China seas, and also in other regions” is being evaluated in Japan’s defense strategy as a major threat, along with North Korea’s nuclear and missile program.
Professor of the Military Science Academy, Major General