Grigory Yavlinsky: There are people living in the Kuril Islands!
Grigory Yavlinsky Facebook post, 16.12.2016
The Russian government is looking for ways out of its international isolation. They thought about finding such a way out through Japan, as they have failed to do something proper with China, and no one else wants to talk to them. The Japanese seem to be interested in dialogue.
All the negotiations and consultations on the threashold of Russian President’s visit to Japan were held in high secrecy, [in a situation of only] leaks and guesses. As a result of long secret and meaningful fuss, Vladimir Putin paid a visit to Japan so that to agree with the Prime Minister Shinzo Abe a document on the beginning (!) of consultations (!) on cooperation between the two countries in the economic activity on the disputed Kuril Islands.
The topic is not new. The Russian side has been repeatedly raising the issue of “joint economic activity” there, but the Japanese position was tough: there must be no economic activity of Japanese citizens in the Kuril Islands in their current status, as then Japanese would be forced to operate under the Russian law, and this would mean a de facto recognition of Russia’s sovereignty over the islands.
Therefore, the economic activity on the islands is unlikely to be carried out “exclusively under the Russian law,” as was promised by Presidential Aide Mr. Ushakov. Yet these are only dreams: the Japanese did not sign under such wording.
Consequently, loudly announced negotiations were reduced to only to a commission to begin consultations. At the same time, the Japanese position is that the issue of the legal basis of economic activities will be decided later. The Japanese talk about a “special system”. Recognition of Russia’s sovereignty, even indirectly, is out of the question.
Therefore, it has been only the verbal gymnastics – an imitation of some movement towards convergence of approaches. There was too much demonstration of violent activity on the top level, so that to recognize now that any significant conversation did not happen.
The matter is that the issue of legal ownership of the islands can not be solved today because of the lack of general consensus between Russia and Japan on the understanding of the origins and nature of the problem. But Russia has not been systematically working on this really serious matter. They wake up only when they need to show off. Exactly as it is now.
But we need to understand the difference between the fate of the islands as a place where people live and work, and the judgment of the legal ownership (sovereignty) over the islands. The living conditions in the Kuril Islands are bad, to put it mildly. And I would be good is Russian-Japanese agreements could have some positive impact on them. However, unfortunately, the show-case agreement on “the beginning of consultations on cooperation” in the absence of basic understanding between Russia and Japan does not promise the residents of the Kuril Islands real change for the better, at least in the foreseeable future.