Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 66

Regional authorities in Russia’s Far East have expressed some disquiet over various aspects of the recent rapprochement between Tokyo and Moscow. Of special concern are the negotiations on the status of the disputed Kuril Islands. At a meeting in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk on March 24-25, the governor of Sakhalin, Igor Farkhutdinov, reportedly expressed fears that Tokyo intends to hold Japanese-Russian cooperation on the joint economic development of the disputed islands hostage to progress on political questions connected to the islands’ status. Moscow has urged joint development of the islands as a means of building trust and easing tensions over the islands’ status. Tokyo has been wary about backing joint development of the islands–called the Northern Territories in Japan–before the status of the islands is determined. (See Monitor, March 17)

Farkhutdinov, a vocal opponent of any Russian concessions on the territorial issue, complained at the March 24-25 meeting that "certain circles" in Japan are obstructing Japanese businessmen from pursuing economic projects on the Kurils. He also criticized a Japanese proposal on visa-less travel between the Sakhalin region and Japan’s Hokkaido island. The Japanese plan, he said, would extend such travel privileges to 5.5 million Japanese. For the Russians, however, it would involve only 15,000 — those Russian nationals resident in the Kuril Islands. (Itar-Tass, March 31)

The lingering ambivalence in relations between Russia and Japan, evident in Farkhutdinov’s remarks, was also present in two related developments on April 3. During a meeting in Tokyo, officials from Russia and Japan agreed to promote joint efforts in the field of space science. The meeting — a positive result of the recently improved relations between Moscow and Tokyo — was the first for a commission established under a 1993 agreement to pursue joint projects in space. (Kyodo, April 3)

But Russian-Japanese cooperation was a good deal less in evidence when Russian border guards and Japanese fishermen clashed yet again over unauthorized fishing by Japanese boats in Russian waters off one of the Kuril Islands. The Russian side warned the government of Hokkaido of possible "unfortunate consequences" over the incident. It was the first such confrontation since December of last year. On February 21, Russia and Japan had signed a long-negotiated agreement that is intended to regulate fishing for Japanese boats in the waters around the Kurils. (See Monitor, February 23) Japanese fishermen and Russian border guard vessels have clashed a number of times in recent years. Twice the Japanese boats were fired upon and fishermen injured.

Yeltsin Stands by Kirienko Nomination.