Moscow’s and Tokyo’s attempts to restart talks on the disputed South Kuril Islands ownership issues are close to failure. Japan has broken the agreement to avoid tough talks on the territorial issue, concluded between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister of Japan Yoshihiko Noda on June 18 at a meeting in Los Cabos, Mexico, on the sidelines of the G20 meeting. Moscow in response sharply reminded that the four islands claimed by Japan are Russia’s integral parts.
In March, on the eve of the presidential election, Vladimir Putin, in an interview with foreign journalists, among whom was a representative of the Japanese Asahi newspaper, indicated that he was ready to resume talks on the territorial problem with Japan. “Let us do so: when I'm president, we will convene our Ministry of Foreign Affairs, on one side, and will seat the Japanese Ministry on the other side and give them a command – “Hajime” (begin),” said Putin, speaking with a Japanese journalist.
In Tokyo this has not gone unnoticed. In late April, one of the leaders of Japan’s ruling Democratic Party, Seiji Maehara arrived in Moscow on an unofficial visit. In May, there was a meeting in Tokyo between State Duma Speaker Sergei Naryshkin, the Japanese Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs. Contacts at working level picked up. Preliminary exchange of views between the leaders was crowned with a meeting of the Russian and Japanese leaders in Las Cabos. The two leaders have agreed to maintain close contacts and hold a new meeting within the APEC summit this September
Commenting on its results, Russian presidential aide Yuri Ushakov, told reporters: there is understanding that further dialogue must be built “in a calm and constructive atmosphere, trying to avoid attempts to influence the debating process through public, often intemperate statements.”
It is clear that the subject is extremely sensitive. It is easy to score political points inside the country by public statements related to it, and it is even easier to break the dialogue, as happened more than once. Both Moscow and Tokyo understand it well enough. However, the agreement on restraint lasted only a week.
Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary, Osamu Fujimura in a conversation with journalists, on June 24, commented on a possible visit by Russian Prime Minister Dmitry of the disputed islands, of which Sakhalin media had written in advance. “It would contradict the Japanese position,” said the official representative of the Japanese government.
Moscow reacted immediately. “The Southern Kuril Islands are an integral part of the Russian Federation. The comments from abroad going on about the Russian leaders’ movement plans in the territory of their own country are at the least inappropriate,” reads the MFA statement.
Meanwhile, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on Tuesday arrived in the Southern Kuril Islands as part of his trip to the Far Eastern Federal District. The prime minister stressed: “This is a very important part of Sakhalin and the whole Russian land. We have dealt with it (the areas development) before and, of course, will deal with the new composition of the government.”
Tokyo’s reaction was not slow to arrive either. “Medvedev’s visit to Kunashir is a bucket of cold water for our relations,” said Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba, and Japanese Foreign Ministry made an official protest. After this skirmish, the prospects of his early visit to Russia at the end of this month become somewhat doubtful.
However, objectively, both Russia and Japan are interested in closer relations. This also applies to cooperation in energy and security in Northeast Asia. Take the North Korean nuclear problem alone!
There are obviously sure to be topics for future talks between Putin and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda at the APEC summit this September in Vladivostok. And judge by the statement of Sergey Lavrov, Moscow does not intend to turn skirmish on territorial problem in a permanent process. “We must move to a peace treaty proper not through periodically renewed protests with or without reason, but through the implementation of the agreements we have reached at the highest level on expansion of an in-depth interaction in all spheres of bilateral cooperation and on international affairs,” said Russian Foreign Minister on Tuesday at a press conference in Moscow.