Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 75

The ambivalent responses occasioned by these last proposals underscored yet again how the two sides differ on the territorial issue. Prior to this weekend’s talks, Moscow floated the idea of a more comprehensive treaty. The proposal, though, raised some suspicions in Japan that Moscow was merely looking for a way to sidestep the territorial issue in the treaty negotiations. Various Japanese politicians have insisted repeatedly that Russian efforts to decouple the peace treaty–and Japanese-Russian economic cooperation–from the territorial issue are unacceptable. Those concerns were undoubtedly reawakened this weekend when acting Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov suggested that discussion of the territorial question be put off into the future because reaching a compromise on control of the islands is at present impossible. (Reuter, April 18) Tokyo has likewise looked askance at Russian proposals for joint economic development of the islands, seeing in acceptance of those proposals an admission of Russian sovereignty over the islands.

The continuing volatility of the territorial issue was obvious in the run-up to this weekend’s talks. Japanese authorities mobilized a security force of 5,000 to keep demonstrations by Japanese ultranationalists away from Yeltsin. These Japanese nationalists charge that Russia intends to keep the islands, which were seized from Japan by Soviet troops at the close of World War II. They argue that Russian leaders are trying to deceive Tokyo by intimating that they are prepared to give up the islands in exchange for massive economic aid from Japan. (Reuter, April 18) In Moscow, meanwhile, Kirienko told equally hardline Russian legislators on the eve of Yeltsin’s departure that the Kremlin has no intention of giving the islands back to Japan. A similar message was conveyed by top Russian Foreign Ministry officials on April 17. Those met with members of a Russian organization dedicated to ensuring that the four Southern Kuril Islands remain Russia’s territory. (Itar-Tass, April 17)