You are here

7 Reasons Russia Will Never Relinquish the Kuril Islands

Surfing the Kurils
Courtesy our friends at Surf Siberia

A longstanding dispute between Japan and Russia over sovereignty of the South Kuril Islands in the Far East of Russia has been reemphasized in meetings of late. The disputed islands, like other islands in the Kuril chain that are not in dispute, were annexed by Soviet forces during the Manchurian Strategic Offensive Operation at the end of World War II. Majestic in their beauty, and crucial for their geo-strategic location, these islands were the subject of a recent inquiry associated with an upcoming meeting between Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Vladimir Putin in December. 

As to just why Russia should never give up these islands, the director of the Institute of Far Eastern Studies Sergei Luzyanin and director of the Center for the Study of the Middle East and Central Asia Semen Bagdasarov recently offered answers.

First: These Islands unquestionably belong to Russia, according to Semyon Bagdasarov.In his own words:

"Of treaties and agreements, there are many, and these often contradict one another. However, even though these islands were taken over by after WW II, during the Russian-Japanese war, Japan also took them away from Russia. The islands, once attached to the Russian Empire, were never given away, nor has any Russian territory been given. If Russia gives way to Tokyo's requirements, it will cause irreparable damage to the credibility of the Russian state." 

Onekotan Island - Courtesy Christopher Robin at Skyscraper City

Secondly: The transfer of even one island to Japan will create a dangerous precedent for the outcomes, and establish grounds for a revision of the Second World War, according to Sergei Luzianin: 

"In particular, this applies to documents of the San Francisco Peace Conference of 1951, when between the Allies and Japan an agreement  was signed limiting the sovereignty of Tokyo, exclusively Japanese islands, and about who should have sovereignty. Creating such a precedent could have dangerous consequences for the whole world and, in any case, does not meet Russia's interests."

Third: In the greater scope of geo-policy, Russia relinquishing any of the Kuril islands to Japan will end up as a small tactical victory for the United States, the military and political ally of Japan," according to Sergey Luzyanin: 

"It is key that Tokyo demonstrates its independence of foreign policy, as Washington has gained much leverage to be able to pressure its allies. In this alliance, Japan is always a slave - if only because of constitutional constraints that do not allow the country to increase its defense budget. Passing the islands of Japan will be a sort of gift, not only Japan but also to the United States, and a tangible psychological blow for Russia."

Courtesy Christopher Robin - Skyscraper City

Fourth: On the fact that Russia's acquiescence on two or more of the Kuril Islands will weaken regional security, goes without saying, according to both experts: 

"The Soviet Union in the east, these islands were part of a vast defense system that stretched from the Kuril Islands to Vladivostok and beyond. During the collapse of the USSR it was destroyed. But if we now abandon the islands, Russia will lose the opportunity recreating a similar system, protecting the eastern frontiers of the country ", according to Semyon Bagdasarov.

A small fishing fleet docks in the Kurils

Sergey Luzyanin is of the expert opinion that; "...among other things, the strategic Straits, next are Russian military bases, which are now strengthened and expanded in the wake of the overall modernization of the country's defense forces". He goes on to say; "A concession of the islands could seriously undermine the process of strengthening of the Russian security in the Pacific."

Fifth: Both men recite the most logical reason for Russia keeping these majestic islands. According to Bagdasrow; "The coastal waters of the Kuril Islands contain a huge wealth of the sea -. fish, seafood, and so forth. Why should it have to give to someone?" Sergey Luzianin agrees:

"The transfer of the islands will inevitably affect the volumes of marine biological resources, which Russia owns. This would simply be an impermissible waste, especially in the difficult current economic conditions."

Kuril islands. Остров Итуруп. Курилы.

Sixth: "While the population of the Kuril Islands is small, these are Russian citizens, and it is unacceptable to create a situation in which they become hostage to inter-State disputes", according to Bagdasarov. The head of the Center for the Study of the Middle East and Central Asia goes on about future development of the islands. "On the joint development of the islands - this is for God's sake a positive necessity. However, this process should be treated with all the caution necessary to associate all the development of the Far Eastern lands for China's citizens too. Overall, we must be very careful to adhere to a legislative framework in order to avoid a situation where the locals become so-called "second-class citizens ". According to Baghdasarov; "First of all, we have to worry about how to inhabit these lands, to ensure the correct apportionment  of foreigners and Russians. One of the ways he sees the provision of land throughout the Far East compatriots who want, but can not leave the national states formed after the collapse of the Soviet Soyuza."

The video below offers a hint at what Japan is asking Russia to give as a present. 

Seventh: Finally, the experts suggest that a new "red line" would be established if Russia gives up these islands, a situation which would be "highly undesirable" in today's trying political situation. Luzianin continues:

"Giving up these islands will, on the one hand, be greeted with great enthusiasm by pro-Western liberals. Meanwhile outrage by nationalist groups, particularly the far left that ultimately will create hugley negative voltage, will not afford officials any credibility or good vantage point."

When the Soviet Union promised to give Japan two of the islands, the USSR's Khrushchev was hardly threatened with a single wave of protest. In today's Russia the situation is fundamentally different, and this is in any case, something we must not forget. As a final note, the general tone from the experts and the Kremlin is justifiably suspicious, the exact wording emphasizing Russia not wanting her throat cut in all these underpinnings.