Manual The Kurile Island Conflict

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Russia would benefit from a peace treaty with Japan that fractured international resistance to its aggressive policies in Ukraine , said Andrei Zubov , a Russian political scientist. Russia and Japan struggle to resolve decades-long dispute over remote islands Kuril islands changed hands in WWII and an amicable settlement remains elusive Sat, Jan 12, , Isabel Gorst in Moscow.

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Latest World. This is not insignificant as it came four days after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima on August 6 and one day after a second nuclear blast leveled Nagasaki. As the end of the conflict neared, Britain, China, and the United States released a joint proclamation on July 26, often called the Potsdam Declaration after the city where it was drafted, providing Japan the opportunity the war to a close. With regard to territorial issues, Article 7 of the document called for the occupation of Japan to establish a new order in the wake of the war, while Article 8 stipulated that "the terms of the Cairo Declaration shall be carried out and Japanese sovereignty shall be limited to the islands of Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu, Shikoku and such minor islands as we determine.

Japan is said to have ignored the Potsdam Declaration on account that it was waiting for a response from the Soviet Union, which it had requested to be a go-between in brokering peace. However, the Soviet army had already invaded Karafuto and northeast China by the time Ambassador Malik delivered the declaration of war on August It was not until August 14 that Japan notified the Allied Forces through the Swiss government that it accepted the Potsdam Declaration.

Truman sent a draft of General Order Number I to Stalin on August 15 to lay the groundwork for Japan signing the declaration of surrender. Stalin, however, responded the following day and asked it be amended to 1 include all the Kurile Islands in the region of surrender of Japanese forces to Soviet troops in accordance with the decision of the three powers in the Crimea that these would come into possession of the Soviet Union; 2 include the northern part of Hokkaido in the region of surrender of Japanese armed forces to Soviet troops; and 3 set the demarcation line between the northern and southern half of Hokkaido on the line leading from the city of Kushiro on the eastern coast to the city of Rumoi on the western coast and include the named cities in the northern half of the island.

Truman responded to Stalin's request to add all the Kurile Islands to the region of surrender on August 18, which was followed by subsequent back and forth between both sides. When Japan officially surrendered on September 2, the final version of the order included the island chain in the statement that Japanese forces in "Manchuria, Korea north of 38 degrees North latitude, Karafuto, and the Kurile Islands, shall surrender to the Commander-in-Chief of Soviet Forces in the Far East.

Stalin initiated the invasion of the Kurile Islands on August 18, the same day Truman sent his response, by attacking Japanese forces on Shumshu Island, the northernmost island of the Kurile chain. The assault continued until Japanese troops surrender on August Soviet forces then moved southward along the chain occupying islands as far as Uruppu Island before heading north again.

Russia’s Pacific Future: Solving the South Kuril Islands Dispute

The operation eventually encompassed all the Kurile Islands, the Habomai Islands, and Shikotan Island, but it is significant to note that Soviet troops initially halted their advance short of Etorofu Island before turning north. This fact strongly suggests that Stalin did not consider Etorofu and Kunashiri Islands as part of the Kurile chain.


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Above, I touched on the exchanges between Stalin and Truman over the disarming of Japanese forces. In their back and forth, the two leaders heatedly discussed landing rights for US aircraft on one island in the central group of the Kurile Islands. Truman in a response to the Soviet leader on August 25 rejected Stalin's stance by emphasizing America's position that the Kurile Islands were not Soviet territory but part of Japan.

He then went on to assert that any territorial change must be made at a peace settlement. Stalin eventually conceded to the US president's request for landing rights for the extent of the occupation of Japan. Even though Stalin was confident that the Soviet Union's claim to the Kurile Islands would be recognized under the Yalta Agreement once Japan surrender, he understood that peace treaties and other agreements forged in the postwar period would force Japan renounce its claims to the island chain.

In other words, he knew that until a treaty stipulating the return of the Kurile Islands was ratified the island chain would remain Japanese sovereign territory. By extent, then, the Northern Territories in broad terms were not part of the area to be occupied by the Soviet Union following Japan's surrender. It can be said with confidence, then, that in the absence of exceptional circumstances, the USSR had no authority to act beyond the bounds of internationally recognized agreements shaping the postwar period. Unwilling to leave it in the hands of the Allied Forces, the Soviet Union took a series of unilateral steps to incorporate the Kurile Islands and southern Karafuto into its territory.

The Soviet government then passed a second decree on January 2, that disbanded South-Sakhalin Oblast, removed it from the Khabarovsk Region, and incorporated it into Sakhalin Oblast. RSFSR's amendment drafting committee head Pyotr Bahmurov reported to government leaders that the amendment, following the Soviet army's liberation of southern Karafuto and the Kurile Islands, legally restores these areas as Russian territory in the Far East.

He went on to say the act removes both southern Karafuto and the Kurile Islands from the Khabarovsk Region and incorporates these into Sakhalin Oblast.

How the Kuril Islands dispute arose, and the story behind Russian-Japanese peace efforts

Even if this interpretation can be assumed to be correct, the fact remains that at this point in time the Soviet government had not yet taken measures to nationalize Etorofu Island, the Habomai Islands, Kunashiri Island, or Shikotan Island. This provides further evidence that Stalin regularly relied on the older Russian boundary in defining the Kurile Islands, that is to say the 18 islands north of Uruppu Island. While most of the Allied nations that had faced Japan in the war ratified the treaty, a handful, including the Soviet Union, did not.

With regard to Japanese territory, the Allied Powers in Chapter 2, Article 2 c of the treaty specified that Japan renounce "all right, title and claim to the Kurile Islands, and to that portion of Sakhalin and the islands adjacent to it over which Japan acquired sovereignty as a consequence of the Treaty of Portsmouth of September 5, Prime Minister Yoshida Shigeru at the San Francisco Peace Conference stated during deliberations over the final draft of the treaty that "with respect to the Kuriles and South Sakhalin, I cannot yield to the claim of the Soviet Delegate that Japan had grabbed them by aggression.

At the time of the opening of Japan, her ownership of two islands of Etorofu and Kunashiri of the South Kuriles was not questioned at all by the Czarist government. Soviet delegation Andrei Gromyko had two days prior to Yoshida's statement criticized the stance of Britain and the United States at the conference, saying it violated [38] the pledge under the Yalta Agreement that Japan would return Karafuto and hand over the Kurile Islands to the Soviet Union. In his address he requested that Article 2 c of the draft treaty be revised to say that Japan recognize the rights of the Soviet Union to the southern part of the Sakhalin Island and all the islands adjacent to it, as well as to the Kurile Islands, and renounce all right, title, and claim to these territories.

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US delegate member John Dulles addressing the conference expressed America's stance on the issue of Japanese sovereignty, saying: "Some question has been raised as to whether the geographical name 'Kurile Islands' mentioned in article 2 c includes the Habomai Islands. It is the view of the United States that it does not.

As the above incidents illustrate, the SFPT failed in defining the boundary of the Kurile Islands or including reservations, and by not specifying the area Japan was to relinquish left the status of the island chain up in the air. If the language of the treaty is to be taken to have more than a general meaning, then to avoid misinterpretation it needs to provide a specific definition or include reservations.

However, even though the SFPT does not refer to a specific area of the Kurile Islands, this does not necessarily mean the treaty uses the standard geographic definition of the chain. In fact, it would be more natural to assume that in reference to the Kurile Islands, treaty drafters were using the definition as it was understood in other international documents.

However, since Japan relinquished its claim to southern Karafuto and the Kurile Islands under the SFPT, it does not have the right in its relation with Russia to maintain a claim of sovereign over the territories. In addressing the issue of redrawing national boundaries Soviet-era textbooks stipulate that for border changes to be recognized they need to be 1 decided by a referendum and 2 that the transfer of territory must be carried out willingly to ensure continued peaceful relations between neighboring states.

In addition, these tomes state that internationally recognized treaties are an appropriate means for resolving territorial disputes in that the claims of countries that have lost territory are based on historical factors. The Yalta Agreement is an excellent example of this form of territory transfer in that it provides for southern Karafuto, which Japan took control of following the Russo-Japanese War, and that portion of the Kurile Islands the Russian Empire had discovered and held up to to be returned to the Soviet Union.

Seen in this light, World War II may have resulted in Japan returning southern Karafuto and the Kurile Islands to the Soviet Union, but only the area of the Kurile chain that was part of Russia's territorial claim up to In this sense, the descriptions within Soviet legal texts are in alignment with the arguments and conclusions I draw above in showing that Stalin and Bahmurov respectively used "all the Kuriles" and "all the Kurile Islands," names with differing meanings, to discuss Russia's claim to the "Kurile Islands" that excluded Etorofu and Kunashiri Islands.

Stalin's understanding of the geographic division of the Kurile chain is an exact match of the Japanese government's.

Kuril islands dispute between Russia and Japan - BBC News

This is certainly because Stalin knew the long, rich history of Russo-Japanese relations better than the other leaders of the Allied nations. In fact, it was not until September 7, , that the US government officially recognized that Etorofu and Kunashiri Islands were sovereign territory of Japan and not part of the Kurile Islands controlled by Russia. As I pointed out above, the Yalta Agreement called for the Kurile Islands to be "handed over" and not "returned" since Japan had not taken the territory through violence and greed.

This is why G. Tunkin, a Soviet scholar of international law, put forward a theory based on the sanctions related to international responsibility of a state [44] supporting Etorofu and Kunashiri's inclusion in the Soviet Union nationalizing the Kurile Islands based on Russian territorial claim of In his book Theory of International Law Tunkin says:. The taking of certain territories from Germany and Japan in consequence of the Second World War differs fundamentally from the previous seizures of territory which took place on the basis of the "right of the victor.

The juridical classification of the taking of certain territories from Germany and Japan which was done in connection with the Second World War, in those instances when this taking went beyond the limits of compensating the respective states for territories previously seized from them by Germany and Japan, is completely different from the seizure of territory on the basis of the "right of the victor. In a separate issue from the "return" of southern Karafuto to the Soviet Union, Tunkin justifies Russian seizure of part of the Kurile Islands "beyond the limits of compensating the respective states for territories" to be "handed over" as part of international treaties not as the "right of the victor," but as reprisal for Japan initiating an illegal war of aggression.

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However, this argument that Japan's entrance into World War II was illegal under international law needs to be considered more closely if it is to be used to justify and authorize the Soviet Union capturing Japanese sovereign land by force. In this paper I outlined the theory that Stalin excluded Etorofu and Kunashiri Islands from the Kurile Islands and that Soviet measures to incorporate territory in East Asia did not include either of these two islands in the Kurile chain, let alone the Habomai Islands and Shikotan Island.

I also established that international law provides scant support for the Soviet Union's argument that the territorial dispute between Japan and Russia is resolved. In fact, I would argue that as the self-proclaimed leader of the proletariat, the Soviet Union in its so-called settling of the territorial issue with Japan would have disappointed the very masses it claimed to represent. Then on December 25, the Soviet Union came to an end, nearly 70 years after its founding in While these events were transpiring, Boris Yeltsin in an address at the Asian Affairs Research Council on January 16, , announced a "five-stage proposal for the solution to the Northern Territories issue," [46] in which he said that the Soviet Union was prepared to publicly acknowledge the territorial issue and draw Japan closer so as to conclude a peace treaty between both nations.

This was a significant moment as it represented the USSR's long-awaited recognition of the Northern Territories issue. The Russian Federation inherited the dispute of the four northern islands following the fall of the Soviet Union.

Kuril Islands dispute: Russia summons Japanese ambassador

Three years later, Yeltsin as president of Russia affirmed Moscow's commitment to conclude a peace treaty by signing the Tokyo Declaration on Japan-Russian Relations [47] on October 13, In addition, Yeltsin and Japanese then Prime Minister Hashimoto Ryutaro concluded the Kawana Agreement on April 19, , specifying both leaders agreed that "the peace treaty should contain a solution to the issue of the attribution of the Four Islands on the basis of paragraph 2 of the Tokyo Declaration, and also incorporate the principles governing Japan-Russia friendship and cooperation as we move into the Twenty-first century.