Japan angry as Russian President visits Kuril Islands

Japan has expressed anger over Russian President Dmitri Medvedev’s visit to the Southern Kuril Islands.  Japan considers the Kuril Islands to be its Northern territories. Medvedev is the first Russian or Soviet leader to ever visit the area.

The President called the Kuril Islands “an important part of Russian territory”, according to RIA Novosti, a Russian news media outlet. Before the trip, the Japanese government sent a message to Medvedev pointing out that the trip could possibly cause a strain in Russian- Japanese relations.

“The Russian side took advantage of the confusion of Japanese diplomacy under the DPJ (Democratic Party of Japan) government and made a preventive move against Japan’s demand for the return of the four islands,” the Yomiuri Shimbun wrote in an editorial.

The Russian side issued a response saying that the President can go wherever he needs to inside of his own country, and any international intervention with that is unacceptable. The Russian government invests a lot of money in the development of the region. About 8 billion rubles were spent on the Kuril Islands over the past three years.

The Kuril Islands have a long history of disputes. After World War II, the dispute over the Islands prevented the two countries from signing a peace treaty, and since then has always overshadowed Russian- Japanese relations. From the Russian point of view, the islands were occupied as a result of warfare in those areas during World War II, and therefore the islands rightfully belong to them. The Japanese, however, believe that the islands are still part of their territory. The islands have since remained at the center of disputes arising between Russia and Japan.

In 1811, Russian Captain Vasily Golovnin and his crew stopped at Kunashir during their hydrographic survey, and were captured by retainers of the Nambu clan and sent to the Matsumae authorities. A Japanese trader, Takadaya Kahei, was also captured by Petr Rikord, who was then the Captain of a Russian vessel near Kunashir in 1812, Japan and Russia entered into negotiations to establish the border between the two countries.

Then, in 1855, The Treaty of Commerce, Navigation and Delimitation was concluded, and the border was established between Iturup and Urup. According to the confirmed border, the Japanese territory stretched south from Iturup and Russian territory stretched north of Urup. Sakhalin remained a place where people from both countries could live.  According to the Treaty of Saint Petersburg in 1875, Japan relinquished all rights over Sakhalin in exchange for Russia ceding all of the Kuril Islands north of Iturup to Japan.

The Soviet Union reclaimed southern Sakhalin and the Kuril islands at the end of World War II.  Japan maintains a claim to the four southernmost islands of Kunashir, Iturup, Shikotan, and the Habomai rocks, together called the Northern Territories, or the Southern Kuril Islands by Russia. Since then, the Islands have been populated by Russians and are currently administered by the Russian Sakhalin.

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