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No End In Sight For Russia-Japan Dispute

Among the various disputes in East Asia that have garnered significant attention over the past two years, the Russia-Japanese dispute over the Kuril Islands or Northern Territories as they are known in Japan has been treated as an almost afterthought. While the potential for conflict over this dispute is minimal, it has served to complicate Russia-Japan relations. Recent actions by Moscow have angered Tokyo and while both sides wish to reach a peaceful resolution, Moscow insists that the status of the islands is not up for debate. With Russian President Putin pursuing a more active foreign policy and nationalism growing in Japan under Prime Minister Abe, a resolution to this dispute does not seem likely in the short term.

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Russia-Japan Dispute

Several islands in an island chain north of Hokkaido were developed by Japanese migrants from the 18th century onward and in 1855, Russian and Japan signed the Treaty of Shimoda granting Japan the four southernmost islands in the chain. Japan maintained control of these islands until the end of World War II when they were occupied by Russia. In 1949, Russia deported all of the Japanese residents on them to Japan. Japan renounced “all right, title and claim to the Kuril Islands” in the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty though this was not signed by Russia nor did the Japanese recognize the...