Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 181

As Japanese boats yesterday began fishing legally in the waters off the Russian-controlled south Kuril Islands, a Foreign Ministry official in Moscow applauded what he said was the beginning of “civilized” cooperation with Tokyo in this area. Aleksandr Losyukov, head of a Foreign Ministry department that oversees relations with Japan, said that implementation of a Russian-Japanese agreement on fishing near the Kuril Islands could serve as a symbol of better relations between the two countries (Itar-Tass, October 1).

Losyukov was referring to an agreement–signed in February of this year after long and arduous negotiations–which regulates fishing for Japanese boats in the waters off the Kuril Islands. Prior to the agreement there were a number of altercations between Russian patrol boats and Japanese vessels near the islands. In several instances the Russian boats fired on the Japanese fishermen.

In Russia’s prevailing political climate all territorial issues have become politically charged. This one has been no exception. Nationalists have repeatedly accused the Kremlin of secretly selling out Russia’s national interests in talks with Japan over the Kurils. More recently, there have been demands that the Russian State Duma reexamine the Japanese-Russian fishing agreement to ensure that it meets fully Russia’s national interests (see the Monitor, September 25).

On September 30, however, the governor of Russia’s Sakhalin region–of which the Kurils are a part–came at the fishing agreement from another angle. Igor Farkhutdinov said that he welcomed the Japanese-Russian accord. But he complained that the commissions now being paid by Japanese fishermen to work the rich waters near the Kurils should be handed over not to the federal budget, but to the Sakhalin region instead for development of the islands (Itar-Tass, September 30). On September 29 a local official from the Kuril Islands accused the federal government of failing to fund a government program aimed at developing the islands. The official requested emergency financial aid from Moscow in order to prevent a growth of “pro-Japanese feelings” among the islands’ residents (see the Monitor, September 30).