Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 194

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin yesterday discounted reports which strongly suggest that Moscow will make no concessions to Japan in talks on the disputed Kuril Islands during next month’s Russian-Japanese summit meeting in Moscow. The reports, published last week, had cited unnamed Russian diplomatic sources. Following talks in Moscow on October 17 with Japanese Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov was quoted as saying that the territorial issue “should be resolved without harming the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Russia” (Russian agencies, October 19). A Japanese government official yesterday refused to comment on such indications (Itar-Tass, Kyodo, October 20).

In his own remarks to the press yesterday, Karasin intimated that last week’s reports had been a deliberate provocation–one aimed, presumably, at complicating the November 10-13 talks between Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi. Karasin rejected “categorical” statements on the islands issue, and said that Moscow’s stance on the territorial dispute remains a “constructive” one. “It will become clear where the point of this constructiveness is” during the Yeltsin-Obuchi talks, he added. The Russian diplomat also appeared to try to soften Ivanov’s October 17 remarks. According to Karasin, the main goal for both sides is to “look for a way out [of the territorial dispute] without damage to the sovereignty and national interests of Russia and Japan” (Itar-Tass, October 20).

In April of this year Tokyo officially offered a proposal which–according to reports at the time–calls for the eventual transfer from Russia to Japan of at least three of the four disputed Kuril Islands. Yeltsin has said that he would respond formally to the proposal during the November summit. That stance was reaffirmed during Komura’s October 17 visit.

As Karasin suggested, however, certain forces in Russia are seemingly intent on raising tensions between Moscow and Tokyo before the November summit. Yesterday the Russian Duma’s geopolitics committee announced that it had drafted a proposal calling for Yeltsin to submit for parliamentary ratification a recent Russian-Japanese fishing agreement. The accord, which was signed this past February and took effect this month, regulates fishing by Japanese boats in the waters off the disputed islands. It has been cited by Russian and Japanese diplomats as an important symbol of recently improved relations between the two countries (see the Monitor, October 2). The draft Duma proposal calls, however, for suspension of the agreement until it can be considered by lawmakers. It also suggests that the fishing agreement fails to protect Russia’s national interests (Russian agencies, October 20).

The draft Duma proposal appears–in both its wording and its intent–to be the product of a recent appeal by a Russian political group. The group, calling itself the Public Committee for the Defense of the Kurils and of the Territorial Integrity of Russia, met last month in Moscow and urged that the fishing agreement be invalidated. Reports of the meeting said that representatives from Russia’s parliament, as well as from the Foreign Ministry and Russian General Staff, were present as observers (see the Monitor, September 25).