Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 82

Several top Russian officials, including President Boris Yeltsin, have suggested publicly in recent days that Russia is unlikely to make any territorial concessions over the four disputed South Kuril Islands. Yeltsin’s remark, in which he reportedly ruled out the possibility of Russia giving up the islands, came on April 24 during a conversation with Kremlin spokesman and foreign policy advisor Sergei Yastrzhembsky. (Kyodo, April 24) Yastrzhembsky, who accompanied Yeltsin during the president’s recent summit meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto, had just returned from a fact-finding mission to Russia’s Far East. Yeltsin reportedly backed a proposal by Yastrzhembsky to step up federal aid to inhabitants of the disputed islands. (Russian agencies, April 24. See Monitor April 20-21))

In remarks to reporters yesterday, Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov appeared also to say that Moscow would make no concessions on the territorial issue. He repeated a statement made earlier by Yastrzhembsky during his visit to the Kurils–namely, that Russia possesses no extra or unneeded territory. (Russian agencies, April 28)

Finally, on April 27, the governor of Russia’s Sakhalin region, Igor Farkhutdinov, reiterated his intractable position on the islands issue. He accused the Japanese side of seeking only one “compromise” in its talks with Russia on the islands–“territorial concessions.” As governor of Sakhalin region, of which the Kurils are a part, and as a member of a working group drafting a Russian-Japanese peace treaty, he said he would impose any concessions on the territorial issue. Farkhutdinov, a member of the pro-government Russia Is Our Home, suggested that the faction also backs his position. (Itar-Tass, April 27) Any proposed transfer to Japan of the Kurils, in part or whole, would have to be approved by Sakhalin region.

During the recent summit meeting between Yeltsin and Hashimoto, the Japanese side reportedly made a proposal by which the border between Russia and Japan would be redrawn north of the disputed islands–in effect giving them to Japan. The transfer would reportedly take place only at some future date, however, with Russia to retain administrative control over the islands until that time. The proposal has been dubbed a “Hong Kong” variant by some, and is to be among the issues discussed on May 6 by a joint Japanese-Russian commission charged with drafting a peace treaty between the two countries.