The Russian war in Ukraine occupies much of the news since last February 24, Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion of the territory. An illegal aggression that is killing hundreds of people, damaging the nation’s infrastructure and, after more than sixty days, it is not ruled out the possibility of it spreading to other territories such as Moldova (pro-Russian region of Transnistria) and even reaching NATO countries.

In any case, it should be remembered that this is not the only open front that the Kremlin maintains abroad. Although it has not generated the same situation as in the Ukrainian cities, there is another place with a Russian presence: the Kuril Islands. An “illegal” invasion with an origin of 150 years ago and that in the last days has gained importance again by Japan, country with which it maintains the dispute.

They are inhabited by few citizens, although they were occupied by Soviet troops in World War II. Japan had not expressed itself in similar terms since 2003, and the Japanese country has been delaying the signing of a peace agreement, hoping to regain sovereignty over the islands. But now it has broken its silence, and Japan has for the first time accused Russia of “illegally occupying” the Kuril Islands.

Last April 22, in its annual diplomatic report, the Japanese Foreign Ministry explained that there is “great concern between Japan and Russia regarding these territories”, which it has referred to as “Japanese territories over which Japan has sovereign rights”, Meanwhile, Russia considers them its own. “The islands are an inalienable territory of Russia,” defended Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

Japan relies on the Bilateral Treaty on Trade and Borders, while Russia, on international treaties dating back to the end of World War II.

Earlier, in March, Russian authorities ended talks on the archipelago because of the “impossibility” of continuing the dialogue following its “special military operation” in Ukraine. This prompted Tokyo to impose sanctions against Moscow. In the aftermath, Russia accused Japan of trying to “harm the country’s interests.”

Also called the Northern Territories, this is an archipelago composed of several groups of islands (Iturup, Kunashir, Shikotan and Habomai). Mostly volcanic, the island group covers an area of 1,300 kilometers and administratively belongs to the Sakhalin Oblast of Russia.

Japanese, Chinese and Russians have sought to colonize this territory for five centuries, but Japan and Russia took precedence over China from the beginning. In 1855, Russia signed the Treaty of Shimoda, which gave the Russians ownership of part of the archipelago (the northern islands) and the Japanese part (the southern islands).

Twenty years later, a new treaty was signed, the Treaty of St. Petersburg of 1875, under which Russia ceded all the Kurils in exchange for Japanese rights over Sakhalin Island, which they in turn eventually lost in 1905 after the disastrous naval war in which Japan sank the entire Russian fleet.

In August 1945, the Soviet Union occupied all the islands despite not being at war with Japan, taking advantage of the fact that the Japanese were already totally defeated by the Americans. It also deported the entire population to Hokkaido, taking away their land and property without any kind of compensation, repopulating the islands with Russians, the Russian way.

In 1951, with the San Francisco Peace Treaty, signed between the Allies and Japan, the Asian country renounced “all right, title and claim to the Kuril Islands”. But Russia did not sign the treaty, so the Japanese government has not recognized the full Russian presence in this territory.

In 1956, Russia proposed to return the two nearest islands to Japan, but only got the rejection of the Asian country, as they only represent 7% of the total archipelago. In 2004, Putin revalidated the proposal, also without success.


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