Almost 70 years after the end of World War II, Russia and Japan still haven’t signed a peace treaty. The warring parties signed a mutual agreement to a ceasefire, but never entered into peace negotiations. Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe began discussions several years ago but have yet to reach an agreement. However, the communication between the parties for the first time, represents progress towards the cause. According to sources close to Putin, he is committed to signing an agreement by the end of the year marking an end to the conflict between the two countries.
“Let’s conclude a peace treaty before the end of this year, without any pre-conditions,” said President Putin, speaking at the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, Russia earlier this month. When the Japanese President spoke to the media he stated that “without infringing upon the rights of either side, we are doing our best with [Mr. Putin] to reach our common aim — to sign a peace treaty.” Abe confirmed, as early as 2016, that the two parties “also shared an earnest determination toward resolving the issue of the peace treaty.” Both Putin and Abe have highlighted the importance of completing a treaty in their tenure for fear that conflict may never be resolved. “If we don’t do it, then who will?” asked President Abe at the same Forum. Although the Japanese are eager to finalize a treaty, they aren’t willing to negotiate on their position regarding the Kuril Islands which form the basis of tensions.
During the Second World War, just days after the United States bombed Hiroshima, Russia invaded Japan and took control of four small islands to the north of Japan called the Kuril Islands. These islands are claimed by Japan as their ‘Northern Territories’ but Russia claims to have owned them in the 19th century before they were annexed. Regardless of traditional ownership, they now represent an area of spiritual significance for the Japanese and crucial military position for the Russians. Stephen Nagy, a senior associate professor at the International Christian University in Tokyo confirmed the importance of the Islands to Russia’s strategy. “That is the actual area of the sea where the Russians would actually sail their naval units out through, as well as its submarine units — that’s a very, very important aspect of Russia’s Pacific fleet, its Pacific strategy, engaging in the Pacific.” Should the Japanese successfully reclaim the Islands there is a potential benefit to their military operations as well.
Both parties claim traditional title over the Islands which provide the both with essential military positioning in the Pacific Region. Peace negotiations are complicated and it’s ambitious to believe they will be completed by the end of this year. Previously, Putin was offered a division of the Islands (both parties taking control of two each), but it was declined due to the impact on political strategy. The economic and social benefits of a peace treaty far outweigh the loss to military position for Russia, a country with immense military power already. Putin should reconsider a sharing of territory, which will open trade deals between the nations and expand Putin’s proposed North/South energy infrastructure. This plan will see the export of energy resources from Russia into the region. This could be greatly benefited by the strong Japanese economy and the drive for cleaner energy options.
Peace negotiations between Japan and Russia will be not simple, nor efficient. However, to improve regional relations between Russia and South East Asia, a deal must be signed. These benefits far outweigh the small loss to Russia’s sizable military strategy in the Pacific. A peace treaty, aside from its practical benefits, symbolizes a finalization of the World War II campaign and will give closure to the people in the region.
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