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On January 30, 2019, the Museum of Contemporary History of Russia hosted a lecture Russia and Japan: Eternal Peace or Eternal Uncertainty? by Vladimir Nelidov, Lecturer, Department of Asian Studies at MGIMO University, RIAC Expert.

On January 30, 2019, the Museum of Contemporary History of Russia hosted a lecture Russia and Japan: Eternal Peace or Eternal Uncertainty? by Vladimir Nelidov, Lecturer, Department of Asian Studies at MGIMO University, RIAC Expert.

At the beginning of the lecture, Nelidov recalled Putin’s meeting with Abe, Japanese Prime Minister, in December 2018, when the parties declared their intention to act on the basis of Soviet-Japanese Joint Declaration of 1956. After that, according to the lecturer, there were many speculations in the media that Moscow intends to follow Article 9 of the Declaration: to sign a peace treaty with Japan and to hand over Shikotan and Habomai islets. Nelidov urged to be skeptical about this kind of assumptions: Russia and Japan continue to adhere to divergent positions on the fate of the Kuril Islands, and the situation is unlikely to change in the near future.

The expert also noted that when analyzing Russian-Japanese territorial dispute, it is important to take into account the domestic political factor. According to the lecturer, Abe’s activity on the Kuril Islands is explained by his desire not to “lose face” in front of his voters and act in favor of the ruling party and the big lobby, that actively support the inclusion of the Northern Territories. The current situation is also an important factor: in the summer of 2019, Japan will hold parliamentary elections, and it is important for the ruling party led by Abe to show high score, otherwise the Acting Prime-Minister may lose power.

The lecturer also challenged a number of arguments according to which it would be beneficial for Russia to hand over the two islands to Japan. For example, according to Nelidov, the assertion, that the Japanese will actively invest in the Russian economy in the case a compromise with Tokyo is reached, is not true: Japanese business simply does not see prospects in this. There is also a popular opinion that handing over Shikotan and Habomai to Japan could help lift Japanese sanctions against Russia. The lecturer also did not agree with this thesis: U.S. sanctions against companies cooperating with Russia, or “secondary” sanctions, are of fundamental importance for Tokyo. In this regard, it is unrealistic to believe that Japan will withdraw form beneficial economic cooperation with the United States and other Western countries because of concessions from Moscow.

At the same time, the Kuril Islands are a valuable marine resource for Russia, a source of rhenium, a rare metal, and also an important territory in terms of security. According to Nelidov, it still cannot be excluded that American military bases will be placed on the islands of Shikotan and Habomai after they are handed over to Japan. Contrary to the popular belief, Russia will fail to “drive a wedge” between Japan and the U.S. with the help of territorial concessions, as all Japanese military policy is built on the U.S. security assurances, on the “nuclear umbrella” concept.

Thus, according to the lecturer, the issue of the Kuril Islands is extremely important for Russia, and there can be no compromise reached. Taking into account Tokyo’s principled position and the domestic political situation in the country of the rising sun, the old territorial issue in bilateral relations will not be resolved in the near future. However, is it bad for Russia? According to Nelidov, if two countries try to act pragmatically, develop trade and tourism and not be held hostage to history, the problem will not be so serious. In this case, in response to the main question of the lecture, the eternal uncertainty in the Russian-Japanese relations can become eternal peace.

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Poll conducted

  1. Korean Peninsula Crisis Has no Military Solution. How Can It Be Solved?
    Demilitarization of the region based on Russia-China "Dual Freeze" proposal  
     36 (35%)
    Restoring multilateral negotiation process without any preliminary conditions  
     27 (26%)
    While the situation benefits Kim Jong-un's and Trump's domestic agenda, there will be no solution  
     22 (21%)
    Armed conflict still cannot be avoided  
     12 (12%)
    Stonger deterrence on behalf of the U.S. through modernization of military infrastructure in the region  
     4 (4%)
    Toughening economic sanctions against North Korea  
     2 (2%)
 
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