On Thursday, Aug.16, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov clarified Russia's position regarding the territorial dispute with Japan. The 1956 declaration "clearly stated that Russia and Japan were no longer at war with each other. Based on the interests of the Japanese people and the benevolent attitude towards Japan, the Soviet Union was ready to transfer the islands of Habomai and Shikotan to Japan as a gesture of goodwill after the peace treaty is concluded," said Lavrov. Russia is ready to fulfil this agreement under certain conditions, and "cannot but take into account Tokyo's stance when voting on debatable issues at the UN and on the implementation of sanctions against Moscow," Lavrov added.
Alexander Kulanov, a historian and specialist in Russian-Japanese relations, said in an interview with Pravda.Ru that Lavrov's remarks reaffirm Russia's will to follow the declaration. "At the same time, we would like to understand what Japan is ready for here too. According to Lavrov, Japan should recognize the results of World War II. Japan is a UN member, and the UN Charter says that WWII results are unshakable. Secondly, it is necessary to understand how independent Japan can act in foreign policy issues, including foreign security issues, given the existing agreement on the military alliance with the United States from 1960. There are tens of thousands of American troops on the Japanese islands. If the islands are handed over to Japan, Russia needs to understand what status the US military will have there, and who will determine their status - Tokyo or Washington. Clearly, this is Washington's prerogative, but it is equally clear that Moscow is not happy with it.
"Lavrov does not talk about an obligation to execute a gesture of goodwill. There are many conditions that may evoke Russia's desire to hand over the islands in question to Japan. Those are complicated conditions that Japan mostly finds unacceptable.
"The Japanese interpret the agreement bluntly. They say that the Soviet Union should have given the islands away, but they are wrong. As Putin said many times, both parties to the dispute should come to understand that the matter is not about mutual obligations - it is about a question of the correct understanding of their positions.
"The Soviet Union signed the surrender as a winner, and Japan did it as a defeated party. Righteously or not, but we got those Kuril Islands, and it goes about the results of World War II here. Russian people have been living on those islands since 1945. In accordance with the UN Charter, Japan cannot dictate its requirements to the winning side. The winning party can show a gesture of goodwill. This is normal human logic, but it is regrettable that Tokyo is constantly disputing those results.
"Russia starts losing the dispute as soon as she takes Japan's side by confirming the very existence of the problem. The Soviet Union had a different approach to the issue - there was no territorial dispute at all. The Japanese could not conduct any talks on the subject, because there was no subject like that for the USSR. If Russia confirms the existence of the issue, Russian officials encourage their Japanese counterparts to continue the discussion. It turns out that Japan's position is very simple. Japan wants to receive South Kuril Islands before signing the peace treaty. Russia also needs to understand to which extent Japan supports sanctions against Russia. Japan does not support Russia in many ways, the Japanese support many sanctions that the West imposed on Russia. Still, Tokyo wants a lot from Moscow.
"Lavrov did not promise anything. He explained Russia's position on the problem yet again. Firstly, the Japanese must recognize the results of World War II - it means that the islands belong to Russia. Secondly, the Japanese must understand the level of their dependence on Washington, and how they are going to negotiate against such a background. Japan cannot guarantee that US army bases will not appear on the Kuril Islands, even if we assume that Russia gives two of those islands to Japan. Tokyo does not have an answer to this question."