Russia Explores Kuril Islands, Angering Japan

  • Japan does not agree to the activities that are planned.
  • The Kremlin responded that it can conduct any research it pleases on their territory.
  • Although taken by the USSR after World War II, the islands have been disputed for centuries.

Japan staged a protest against a Russian plan to conduct geological exploration in the Sea of Okhotsk for the next three months. The area covers the four disputed Kuril Islands of Shikotan, Iturup, Habomai and Kunashir. In Japan, they are referred to as the “Northern Territories” or “or Southern Chishima.”

The Kuril Islands with Russian names. Borders of Shimoda Treaty (1855) and Treaty of St. Petersburg (1875) shown in red. Since 1945 all islands northeast of Hokkaido have been administered by Russia.

Russia has notified Japan of the plan to carry out work from June 18 to September 18 in wide areas of the Sea of Okhotsk. The General Secretary of the Cabinet of Ministers of Japan made a submission that Japan does not agree to the activities that are planned.

For many years, there has been a dispute between Russia and Japan over the ownership of the Kuril Islands. It is this dispute that prevents countries from concluding a peace treaty that was violated during the World War II. Japan claims the four Islands of the South Kuril range, referring to the 1855 Treaty on trade and borders.

Moreover, earlier this year Russia caught a Japanese national allegedly committing acts of espionage. Coincidentally, there is also currently a Japanese individual, and former employee of SoftBank, that is accused of attempting to provide Russia classified information last year. He was allegedly committing espionage and was recruited by Russia. 

Moscow’s position is that the Southern Kurils became part of the USSR after World War II. Thus, Russian sovereignty over them, which has an international legal form, is not subject to doubt. The Kremlin responded that it can conduct any research it pleases on their territory, and it was a courtesy to notify Japan of the planned activities.

Nevertheless, it is hypocritical, since just last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin stated that former Soviet republics shouldn’t be able to keep such “gifts,” such as lands they inherited from the Russian Empire. They belonged to the Soviet Union and should return to Russia, Putin says.

The Sea of Okhotsk is a marginal sea of the western Pacific Ocean. It is located between Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula on the east, the Kuril Islands on the southeast, Japan’s island of Hokkaido on the south, the island of Sakhalin along the west, and a stretch of eastern Siberian coast along the west and north.

Therefore, with the same logic, Russia should not keep what belonged to Japan. There is a dispute as to who owned them first from the 16th century. There are certain blurry time periods of who owned them when in the 17th century.

It is plausible the conflict between Russia and Japan could escalate. It is possible, even in to military conflict. From the strategic prospective, Japan could technically enter Sachalin Island with its military forces. It might not be successful. China would highly likely aid Russia, if needed too. There have been always tensions between Japan and China as well.

Russia voiced its concern that if Japan gets the islands back, the USA will be putting military bases in the area. Hence, it could be a threat to Russia and China. This has been an ongoing viewpoint since 2016. There is no evidence to suggest that is what Japan would allow the US to do.

Hopefully, the conflict can be resolved peacefully. At this time, it continues to be on the diplomatic level. There is little hope the dispute over territories would be resolved soon.

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Christina Kitova

I spent most of my professional life in finance, insurance risk management litigation.

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