Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s answer to a question by a participant of the Terra Scientia National Educational Youth Forum, Solnechnogorsk, August 15, 2019
Question: The Kuril Islands are part of Russia, but Japan still has claims regarding this land. What is the strategy to resolve this issue with Japan?
Sergey Lavrov: The strategy is simple. President of Russia Vladimir Putin has repeatedly stated our approach to this issue which is extremely transparent and clear. Russia is the continuing legal entity of the Soviet Union. All other republics are legal successors, whereas we, in addition to being a successor, are also a continuing legal entity. We were recognised in December 1991 in this capacity and, based on this status, automatically renewed our permanent membership at the UN Security Council.
For this reason, we recognised and are willing to honour the international commitments assumed by the Soviet Union, including the Soviet-Japanese Joint Declaration of 1956, which clearly stated that Russia and Japan are no longer at war with each other, do not consider each other enemies, and will build relations based on the principles of peace and neighbourliness. Article 9 of the Declaration says that, desiring to meet the wishes of Japan and taking into consideration the interests of the Japanese people, the Soviet Union is willing, after concluding a peace treaty, to transfer the islands of Habomai and Shikotan to Japan as a goodwill gesture. Mind you, specifically following the conclusion of a peace treaty. After the Soviet Union’s disintegration, Russia acknowledged this commitment among others. When contact resumed between Moscow and Tokyo, this matter was, of course, discussed with a number of successive Japanese prime ministers. Most recently, a couple of years ago, President Putin and Prime Minister Abe agreed to step up peace treaty talks based on the 1956 Declaration, which, as I mentioned, runs as follows: first concluding a treaty and then considering the issue of transferring in good faith these two islands, not returning them.
We believe that a peace treaty should include the realities that were created after World War II and recognise the results of World War II, according to which all four islands of the South Kuril Ridge are the territory of the Russian Federation as the continuing legal entity of the Soviet Union.
Our Japanese colleagues remain steadfast. They say they do not agree with the outcome of World War II, the part that concerns them and us, even though this position cannot be accepted because it contradicts the UN Charter which states that everything that was done by the victorious nations following World War II is not subject to revision. So far, this issue depends on our Japanese colleagues’ unwillingness to recognise the results of World War II, which stands in the way of signing a peace treaty.
I don’t think this is a deadlock situation. We are guided by the instructions issued by President Putin following his talks with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. These instructions tell us to continue to promote our relations with Japan in all areas, including trade, the economy, foreign policy and culture. This, probably, is also something we should think about as we strive to overcome the most complex challenges.
For example, we draw the attention of our Japanese colleagues to the fact that our proposal regarding joint economic activities on these four islands should be based on Russian law. We have many additional incentives for those who invest in these islands, including priority socioeconomic development areas and the free port of Vladivostok. Our Japanese colleagues can take advantage of these benefits. If they need more, we are willing to discuss this as well and to conclude other intergovernmental agreements. However, we cannot agree with the idea of introducing a jurisdiction on our territory that is not based on Russian law.
Security issues are the second example. You are aware that Japan accommodates US military bases and a large number of US troops. Under the 1960 Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan, the Americans have the right to deploy their armed forces in almost any part of Japan. By the way, this Treaty of 1960 was signed after the Declaration of 1956. Thus, it created conditions that did not exist at the time the Declaration was signed. Let me note that it would have been possible to act upon that declaration in Soviet times, but the United States prevented Japan from taking this step, not wanting Japan to normalise relations with our country, and has never stopped using the islands to introduce conflict in our contacts with Tokyo. I emphasise that we see this clearly.
We want good relations with our Japanese neighbour. To get there, we need to understand, first, whether Japan is willing to recognise the results of World War II, since it is a member of the UN, and the UN Charter clearly states that these results are immutable. Second, we need to understand how much independence Japan will enjoy in foreign policy and security issues, given Tokyo’s strong dependence on Washington based on the 1960 military-political alliance treaty, which is materialised in the US’s very deep presence on Japanese islands.
In general, when we talk about the need to address all matters on the basis of full-fledged and large-scale cooperation, we cannot turn a blind eye to the fact that on all issues of a fundamental nature which cause controversy at the UN, Japan invariably votes on the side of the United States against Russia.
We can’t turn a blind eye to the fact that Japan joined, albeit in a truncated version, the illegal unilateral sanctions that the West imposed on Russia, primarily because we defended our compatriots in Crimea who refused to accept the unconstitutional coup which took place in Kiev in February 2014. We could keep discussing this, but I tried to outline the key points.