Hard Bargain
Russia Hardens Stance in Island Dispute With Japan

Speculation earlier this year was that Russia, looking to diversify its foreign policy portfolio in Asia, might be willing to open discussions on its longstanding Kuril Islands dispute with Japan. Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, put such notions to rest yesterday, reports Russia Today:

As far as the Kuril Islands are concerned – these are the Eastern border regions of the Russian Federation. We put special attention to normal development of these Russian territories and wholly develop them, considering the needs of Russian citizens who reside there,” the minister told reporters.

He added that planning the defenses and strengthening the military infrastructure of border regions were natural actions for any nation. “These are the Far-Eastern borderlands of our country and we must provide security there. We will apply all necessary attention to this task,” Lavrov emphasized.

The statement was made in reply to a reporter’s request to comment on the alleged increase of Russia’s military presence on the Kuril Islands in recent months.

Japanese-Russian relations are more important than many people realize. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has expressed his desire to improve them, hoping that Japan’s energy needs and Russia’s desire to sell its oil to places other than China might be fertile grounds for better ties. Abe has even been pressuring the G7 to allow Russia back into the fold. In return, Russia took a harder-than-usual line with North Korea.

But the Kuril problem, which dates back to World War II, is a big one. Last summer, Russia announced plans to build on the islands, in a move widely interpreted as a rebuke to Abe’s visit to Kyiv. Russia seems intent on emphasizing the islands as an example of Moscow’s sovereignty and power, which suggests that a solution isn’t coming any time soon.

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