Monday, 20 August 2012

Japan-Russia tensions on Kuril Islands

mapThe Kuril Islands dispute, also known as the Northern Territories dispute (Japanese) is a dispute between Japan and Russia over sovereignty over the South Kuril Islands. The disputed islands, which were occupied by Soviet forces during the Manchurian Strategic Offensive Operation at the end of World War II, are under Russian administration , but are claimed by Japan, which refers to them as the Northern Territories.  The dispute over the islands has prevented the two countries signing a peace treaty formally ending World War II. At its closest point Kunashir, the second largest of the island group, is less than 25km (15.5 miles) from Japan.
Tensions between Russia and Japan increased in July 2012, when Russian Prime Minister Medvedev visited the Kuril Islands for a second time.

Map of Kuril islandsMr Medvedev's first visit to the Kurils, as president in 2010, drew a furious reaction from Japan, which described it as an "unforgivable outrage". He was the first Russian leader to visit the islands, and the move prompted Tokyo to recall its Moscow ambassador temporarily. Tensions surrounding the Kurils spiralled after Mr Medvedev's 2010 visit, sparking fears of a conflict between the two countries.

In 2011 Russia announced it was boosting military defences on the islands. However tensions reduced after the 2011 earthquake in Japan and the ensuing nuclear accident - a disaster which prompted expressions of solidarity in Russia.
Chances of an early resolution to the dispute look slim. Natural resources are part of the reason. The islands are surrounded by rich fishing grounds and are thought to have offshore reserves of oil and gas. Rare rhenium deposits have been found on the Kudriavy volcano on Iturup. Tourism is also a potential source of income, as the islands have several volcanoes and a variety of birdlife.

Meanwhile, the Japanese government has worked to maintain public awareness of the dispute. Periodic visits by relatives of those displaced after the war to pray before their ancestral shrines have made the issue a highly emotive one for the Japanese public.

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