The influential Chinese English-language Global Times newspaper (a structural unit of the official Communist Party mouthpiece Renmin Ribao ("The People's Daily") in an edition of 1.5 million copies) published an article under the salient title: "Japanese PM not to win Kurils away from Russia."
Authors of the article call on Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to accept the inability to resolve the territorial dispute with Russia in the foreseeable future. According to the newspaper, it is time for Abe to take a more realistic look at the situation and wake up to the fact that the two countries' general public is not ready to smooth their territorial row over.
At the same time, it is recognized that Abe and Putin have managed to create a foundation for mutual trust, which indicates Putin's desire to negotiate with Japan to resolve the conflict. On the other hand, Global Times draws attention to the fact that "the key to the territorial issue" lies in the position of other players as well, primarily Japan's closest military ally – the United States. Moreover, the Chinese newspaper points out, if Moscow accepts any concessions, it will imply that anyone is able to rewrite history, which can have a huge impact on the existing world order.
Armed with such warnings, your present correspondent has long been appealing to the Russian authorities and the public but, unfortunately, it is only in recent times that the Russian leadership began to express real concerns over the issue. But as the saying goes, that is not lost that comes at last.
In my 2010 book "Russia and Japan: Knots of Contradictions" the following was observed: "Not only Japan, but also the United States takes an interest in this region. Russia's withdrawal from the Southern Kurils and their transition to Japanese control may lead to the creation of new frontiers for the advanced deployment of a united Japanese-American military group. The territory of the Southern Kurils can be used to relocate part of the US military bases in Okinawa, which is persistently sought by this island's population. Since the Pentagon does not intend to reduce its presence in Japan, the deployment of American bases in the Kuril Islands in case of their transfer would be the best solution for both Tokyo and Washington. The experience of our troops' withdrawal from Germany demonstrates to what degree we can rely on assurances about the improbability of such a scenario. Once it was also promised "not to expand NATO to the East."
Russian President Vladimir Putin's recently expressed concern over the use of virtually transferable Russian territories by the US armed forces certainly makes the quest for a "mutually acceptable compromise" even more complicated. And Putin's call to seek a solution to the conflict with no winners or losers is a mere figure of speech, since the Kurils will either remain in their "native harbor", as the President put it talking about the Crimea, or "float away" to Japan.
According to recent calculations by Japanese politicians, some day or other the unfavorable socio-economic situation in the Kuril Islands and dereliction of their people's interests could not but lead to the local population's consent to "return" the Southern Kurils to Japan. Similar reflections have been sown by the Japanese in the minds of both the Kuril dwellers and representatives of Russia's central authorities. However, the actual outcome of federal socio-economic development program in the Southern Kurils excited the Japanese authorities even more than the deployment of Stooge and Sennight coastal missile defense systems. Tokyo draws a reasonable conclusion that persistent infrastructure building efforts in the Kurils, as well as improving the life of both the local population and the soldiers guarding them cannot serve as indicators of Moscow's intention to cave in to Tokyo's unreasonable and illegal claims.
Frightened by President Putin's proposal to conclude a peace treaty without preconditions and seeing it as a dangerous prospect for Tokyo to end the fruitless tug-of-war over the islands, Abe and his advisers rushed to save the "bird in the hand". There was a number of "leaks" in the media that the Japanese Prime Minister might allegedly make do with the Lesser Kuril Ridge alone, as it was stipulated by the so-called "Khrushchev's compromise" of 1956, when the then Soviet leader, driven by some personal voluntaristic considerations, promised to hand over Shikotan and the Habomai Islands to Japan. However, the promise was disavowed by Khrushchev himself in January 1960, when the Japanese government instead of concluding a peace treaty with the Soviet Union signed a new military agreement with the United States, which now allows Washington and the Pentagon to deploy military bases throughout Japan.
Nevertheless, President Putin agreed with Prime Minister Abe to seek a solution to the issue of concluding a peace treaty based on the long-forgotten "Khrushchev's compromise" which was part of the Soviet-Japanese Joint Declaration of 1956 signed instead of a peace treaty. In Japan, this was perceived as Moscow's consent to hand over the Lesser Kuril Ridge. But the Kremlin and the Russian Foreign Ministry do not recognize any specific agreements during confidential talks between the two countries' leaders last autumn in Singapore and Buenos Aires. At the same time, earlier this year Abe stated that Tokyo has no plans to seek the displacement of Russian residents from the Kuril Islands if Russia transfers the territory, and proposed not to demand compensations from Russia for "post-war occupation of the islands." This bears testimony to the fact that the Japanese Prime Minister is either catching the ball before the bound or has got the whole thing wrong.
The wave of protests against the allegedly adopted decision on the "transfer" of the Southern Kurils or at least the Small Kuril Ridge that swept across the Far East, Moscow and other parts of the country, forced the authorities to "take measures". Japan's Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to Russia Toyohisa Kozuki was summoned to the Russian Foreign Ministry and told that "these remarks cannot be viewed otherwise but as an attempt to artificially increase pressure around the peace treaty issue and to impose an own scenario of its resolution on the other side."
It was stressed that Russia's stance remained unwavering, and "the peace treaty issue might be resolved in case a qualitatively new atmosphere in the Russian-Japanese relations is created. It should be supported by the two nations and rest in full on Tokyo’s unconditional recognition of the results of World War II, including the Russian Federation’s sovereignty of the Southern Kuril Islands."
The reprimand certainly targeted not the Ambassador but Prime Minister Abe for his impatience and desire to win some extra political points as soon as possible for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party ahead of the upcoming spring and summer local and general elections. However, having cast the Russian negotiating partners in a negative light, saying that they allegedly agreed to hand over at least the Small Kuril Ridge, the politician "spoiled the game", as the saying goes. Sending a message that Moscow will not tolerate even a partial transfer of the Southern Kurils was Russian Presidential Aide Yuri Ushakov, who stressed that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe complicated peace treaty negotiations with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
As you know, the milestone 25th talks between leaders of the two countries which took place in Moscow on January 22, came to nothing, even though Putin reaffirmed the interest Moscow and Tokyo take in concluding a peace treaty, cautiously clarifying that "painstaking work is expected ahead to create conditions for achieving mutually acceptable solutions". It was particularly stressed that the terms of the treaty should be acceptable to the people of Russia and Japan and enjoy wide support in both countries. It bears reminding that up to 90 per cent of our country's population are adamantly opposed to any territorial concessions to Japan, which the President is certainly well aware of. It can readily be understood that Putin implies the absence of any prospects for reaching an agreement in the foreseeable future or, to put it bluntly, this very year, as Abe imprudently and unreasonably promised the Japanese.
Global Times draws attention to the increasingly larger role of the Russian public in the Tokyo-imposed "Kuril issue", which is confirmed by the following extract: "The biggest problem Moscow and Tokyo face is the difference in the two countries' public opinion. The overwhelming majority of Russians do not support even a partial transfer of the islands to the Japanese. Quite a firm stance. And even if the Kremlin were ready to give the Southern Kurils away under the Soviet-Japanese Declaration terms, differences in public opinions as a whole and Russian people's implacability on the territorial issue in particular will simply make this impossible... While signing a peace agreement is probable unless Abe quits as Prime Minister, the territorial issue will be up to his successors to resolve."
This was in fact confirmed by Abe himself, when the other day he publicly proclaimed to be upholding the nationalist position of Japan's sovereignty over all of the Southern Kuril Islands. This kind of stance and disposition won't help him make it into history as a politician who has defied the odds and achieved a revision of the World War II outcomes, forcing Russia to leave its rightfully-owned territories.