Japan-Russia peace talks suspended

A long-standing territorial dispute between Japan and Russia is likely to drag on with the suspension of negotiations. Russia pulled out of the talks following Japan’s decision to join international sanctions in pressuring Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine.

The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement on March 21.

“Under current conditions, the Russian Federation does not intend to continue peace treaty talks with Japan,” it read. “It is impossible to discuss a fundamental document on bilateral relations with a state that has an explicitly hostile position.”

The move follows Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio‘s decision to impose a new round of sanctions on Russia. The measure is in line with other Group of Seven countries.

Japan has revoked Russia’s “most favored nation” trade status as Tokyo moves to raise tariffs on Russian goods.

decades of negotiation

Diplomatic talks have been going on for decades. Negotiations for a peace treaty formally ending the state of war date back to 1956, when Russia and Japan signed the Japanese-Soviet Joint Declaration.

The territorial dispute over the islands off the northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido remains a sticking point.

Russia controls the islands. Japan claims them. The Japanese government maintains that the islands are an integral part of Japanese territory. He says the islands were illegally occupied after World War II.

According to the Japanese government, about 17,000 Japanese lived on the islands before the Soviet Union occupied them in 1945. The Soviet Union ordered Japanese residents to leave in 1948.

The two counties agreed to resolve the question of “the allocation of the four northern islands” and to conclude a peace treaty.

In 2016, then-Prime Minister Abe Shinzo and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed on joint economic activities, including tourism projects, on the islands.

A visa-free visit program for Japanese and Russian islanders was expanded, and the Russian government allowed more former Japanese residents to visit the graves of their ancestors.

Those developments are now on hold, with Moscow saying Tokyo bears full responsibility for the breakdown in bilateral cooperation.

The Russian Foreign Ministry announced:

  • Russia does not intend to continue peace treaty talks with Japan.
  • Russia will withdraw from dialogue with Japan on joint economic activities on four of the disputed islands.
  • Russia will suspend visa-free visits for Japanese citizens.
  • Former Japanese residents are no longer allowed to visit the graves of their relatives.
The Russians settled in the disputed islands after the end of World War II.

Japan protests

Prime Minister Kishida protested to Russia its “unacceptable” approach.

“The current situation is the result of Russian aggression, and it is extremely unfair to blame the consequences on Japan-Russia relations,” Kishida told a Diet committee.

Foreign Minister Hayashi Yoshimasa said the government would continue to accommodate the wishes of the elderly former islanders. “But in light of the current situation, we cannot comment on the prospects for negotiations,” he told a news conference.

Prime Minister Kishida Fumio called Russia’s decision “unacceptable” on March 22, 2022.

Disappointed former residents

The return of what Japan calls the Northern Territories is an ardent wish of those who lived there before the Soviet occupation.

“All the former islanders who campaigned for the return of the islands are in shock,” Tsunoka Yasuji, a native of Habomai Island, told NHK in Nemuro City, Hokkaido.

“We are back to the beginning 77 years after the end of the war. We all fear we will have to start from scratch.”

Tsunoka Yasuji, a Northern Territories return advocate, says he is shocked that the talks have been suspended.

Another former resident, Fukuzawa Hideo, 81, said he was disappointed that Russia was suspending visa-free visits.

He says a Soviet soldier held a gun to his head during the invasion in 1945. “Before, I hated the Russians,” says Fukuzawa. But the granting of visa-free visits changed his mind.

Fukuzawa has made 16 visa-free trips, even welcoming Russian visitors to his home.

“I ended up understanding their ways of thinking,” he explains. “I’m so disappointed to think we’re back to square one.”

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