In the midst of a visit to Russia’s Far Eastern Sakhalin Oblast, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov yesterday assured local leaders that relinquishing the disputed South Kuril Islands would be “inadmissible and unconstitutional.” Nemtsov also complained of what he intimated was a penchant by Japanese officials both to constantly emphasize the issue of the islands’ status and to drag out even simple decisions on their possible joint economic development. (Itar-Tass, July 8)
Russia and Japan are currently negotiating a peace treaty designed to bring a formal end to World War II and a normalization of bilateral relations. The issue of the Kuril Islands’ status has been included in those discussions. Regional leaders in Russia’s Far East have strongly opposed any concessions by Russia on the islands issue and have warned the Kremlin against any sort of secret territorial turnover in the talks with the Japanese. That is especially true of Sakhalin Oblast, of which the disputed islands are a part.
Nemtsov’s remarks yesterday came less than a week before Russian Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko’s groundbreaking July 12-13 visit to Japan. It will be the first time that a Russian prime minister has visited Japan in over a century. Economic and trade issues are expected to dominate during Kirienko’s talks in Japan, a focus preferred by Moscow. Russian officials have suggested that the Kuril Islands territorial issue is not on Kirienko’s agenda. (Itar-Tass, July 7-8) The Russian prime minister will continue on to China after his visit to Japan.
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