Russia illegally holds disputed islands: Japan

What is the News?

Japan for the first time has said that Russia has illegally occupied four islands near the Kamchatka Peninsula. The Japanese have called these islands – the Northern Territories – while Russia calls them the Kurils. 

What are the Kuril Islands?

The Kuril Islands are a chain of islands stretching from the Japanese island of Hokkaido to the southern tip of Russia’s the Kamchatka Peninsula.

The islands separate the Okhotsk Sea from the North Pacific Ocean.

The islands are part of the Ring of Fire belt of geologic instability circling the Pacific.

What is the Kuril Island dispute?
Source: Global Politics

The Kuril Islands dispute between Japan and Russia is over the sovereignty of the South Kuril Islands.

The South Kuril Islands comprise Etorofu island, Kunashiri island, Shikotan island and Habomai island.

These islands are claimed by Japan but occupied by Russia as the successor state of the Soviet Union.

History of Kuril Islands Dispute

Treaty of Shimoda (1855): In 1855, Japan and Russia concluded the Treaty of Shimoda, which gave control of the four southernmost islands to Japan and the remainder of the chain to Russia.

Treaty of Saint Petersburg (1875): In this treaty, Russia ceded possession of the Kurils to Japan in exchange for uncontested control of Sakhalin Island. However, these islands were again seized by the Soviet Union at the end of World War II.

Yalta Agreement (1945): In 1945, as part of the Yalta agreements the islands were ceded to the Soviet Union, and the Japanese population was repatriated and replaced by the Soviets.

San Francisco Peace Treaty (1951): It was signed between the Allies and Japan in 1951. It states that Japan must give up all right, title and claim to the Kuril Islands but it also does not recognize the Soviet Union’s sovereignty over them.

Japan-Soviet Joint Declaration (1956): The dispute over the islands has prevented the conclusion of a peace treaty to end World War II. In 1956, diplomatic ties were restored between Japan and Russia by Japan-Soviet Joint Declaration.

During that time, Russia offered to give away the two islands closest to Japan. But the offer was rejected by Japan as the two islands constituted only 7% of the land in question.

What is the current situation of the Kuril Islands Dispute?

Despite a series of agreements, the dispute continues, and Japan still claims historical rights to the Kuril Islands. Further, Japan has tried repeatedly to persuade the Soviet Union and, from 1991, Russia to return those islands to Japanese sovereignty.

Source: This post is based on the article “Russia illegally holds disputed islands: Japan” published in The Hindu on 23rd April 2022

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