Russia’s Foreign Ministry reacted angrily last week to comments by the U.S. ambassador to Russia, James Collins, indicating that Washington supports Tokyo in the Russian-Japanese dispute over the Kuril Islands. Collins was said to have made the remarks on March 19 during a visit to Russia’s Sakhalin region. On March 20, a Russian Foreign Ministry official reportedly expressed amazement over Collins’ remarks. He said further that Moscow was checking the accuracy of reports on the statements. A day earlier, a Russian official was quoted as saying that the remarks by Collins were "not suitable or appropriate." Russia, he said, did not appreciate comments from a "third country" on an issue of such importance to Russia and Japan. (Xinhua, March 19; Itar-Tass, March 19-20)
The remarks by Collins, if he indeed made them, come at an especially sensitive time for Moscow. At an informal summit meeting in Krasnoyarsk last fall, Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto agreed to step up efforts to conclude by 2000 a Japanese-Russian treaty formally ending World War II. The territorial dispute over the Kuril Islands (called the Northern Territories in Japan) is the greatest obstacle to completion of the treaty, and Moscow is sure to face pressure from Tokyo for concessions. The Japanese and Russian leaders are scheduled to take up the issue again in April during their second informal summit — which is to take place at the Japanese resort of Kawana.
Mass Procession in Minsk on Independence Anniversary.