Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 200

Amid the concern over Yeltsin’s readiness for the November 10-13 talks with Obuchi–which are to include negotiations over the disputed Kuril Islands–there have been new indications in recent days of growing unrest among the inhabitants of those islands. On October 26 local officials representing the South Kuril administrative district criticized federal authorities for delaying the delivery of power generators, food, and other aid from Japan (see the Monitor, October 27).

The inhabitants of the disputed South Kuril islands have been especially hard-hit by Russia’s post-Soviet economic woes. They have accused Moscow of failing to follow through on promises of aid to the islands. Their frustration was evident again yesterday as local leaders appealed for aid from the city of Moscow and warned that they were considering leasing portions of the islands to the Japanese. The appeal to Moscow reportedly came from Vladimir Zema, head of the South Kurils administrative region. In a message to Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, Zema reportedly requested both that Luzhkov take the islands under his protection and that he encourage investors in the capital to turn their attention to the islands. The local leader reportedly warned that Russia could lose the islands to the Japanese in the near future.

Zema also said that the islanders, fed up with the indifference of the federal government, were considering leasing portions of the islands to the Japanese for up to 99 years. According to another local island official, the threat relates to a decree issued by Yeltsin in 1992 that gives local authorities on the Kurils the right to lease portions of their territories to foreign investors for a period of 99 years (Itar-Tass, Kyodo, AP October 28).

Zema’s appeal yesterday was not his first action of this type. Last month he warned that Moscow’s policy of indifference toward the islands was generating “pro-Japanese” feelings among the local inhabitants (see the Monitor, September 30). Recent unrest on the islands seems to reflect the broader economic difficulties affecting Russia and, especially, its Far Eastern regions. But yesterday’s protests suggest also that the islanders are well aware of the upcoming talks between Yeltsin and Obuchi, and that they hope to pressure the federal government for aid at a time when the islands’ fate are to be the focus of intense attention. They are undoubtedly aware also of the widespread opposition in Russia to any territorial concessions by Moscow to Tokyo, and probably hope to capitalize on fears–real or feigned–that the dismal conditions on the islands could force their inhabitants into the waiting arms of Japan.