Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 205

Russia’s Foreign Ministry has drafted the Kremlin’s official response to an earlier Japanese proposal aimed at resolving the Kuril Islands territorial dispute, ministry officials said yesterday. The response, to be given to Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi during next week’s scheduled summit meeting in Moscow, awaits only Boris Yeltsin’s official approval. Although they provided no specifics, the officials suggested that Moscow’s response is formulated in such a way that it both safeguards Russia’s security and heeds Tokyo’s stance on the islands. Moscow hopes the substance of the response will ensure that efforts to improve Russian-Japanese relations more broadly will continue to move forward. The Russian response to Japan, the sources added, will not be made public.

These remarks–made by unnamed Foreign Ministry officials yesterday–came a day after the ministry’s spokesman, Vladimir Rakhmanin, denied reports published in Japan that Moscow is prepared to transform the disputed islands into some sort of “special zone” while removing them from the jurisdiction of Sakhalin Oblast. The point of that plan, the reports said (as noted above), would be to finesse the territorial issue by satisfying Japanese demands for a return of the islands while maintaining Russian sovereignty over them. The islands would reportedly either be given autonomous status or be placed under direct presidential rule.

Rakhmanin said on November 3 that the “special zone” proposal had long been under discussion in Russian academic circles. The Foreign Ministry, he added, was well aware of it. He claimed, however, that “no practical discussion” of the plan “has been conducted either inside the Russian Foreign Ministry or between Russia and Japan.” The newspaper “Izvestia” reported yesterday, however, that the “special zone” option had indeed been studied by the Foreign Ministry in the run-up to next week’s Yeltsin-Obuchi summit. The paper did not say whether elements of the “special zone” option would be contained in the official response handed over to Obuchi by Moscow. But it did make the point that Russia will next week be obliged to make some sort of movement toward Tokyo on the territorial issue if it wants cooperation in other areas–particularly economic–to move forward (Itar-Tass, November 3; Russian agencies, Izvestia, November 4).