• Yomiuri Editorial

Northern Territories Issue: Unacceptable for Russian Control to Be A Fait Accompli

Russia is strengthening various measures to make its illegal occupation of the northern territories off Hokkaido a fait accompli. The northern territories are part of Japan’s inherent territory, both historically and under international law, and any unjustified actions are unacceptable.

At a national convention to demand the return of the northern territories, held in Tokyo on Feb. 7 — Northern Territories Day — Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said: “Current Japan-Russia relations are facing difficult circumstances. However, the government is adhering to its policy of resolving the territorial issue and concluding a peace treaty.”

Russia’s predecessor, the Soviet Union, invaded the four islands — Etorofu, Kunashiri and Shikotan islands and the Habomai group of islets — in violation of the Japan-Soviet Neutrality Pact in the closing days of World War II. The illegal occupation by Russia continues to this day. This is the same structure as Russia’s aggression against Ukraine with the purpose of occupying its territory.

The Japanese government imposed sanctions on Russia in February 2022, including the freezing of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s assets, in response to the start of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.

Russia then responded by unilaterally suspending negotiations with Japan regarding the northern territories. Visa-free exchanges have also been suspended, and visits to graves on the islands by former islanders have ceased.

Putin said in autumn last year that it was Japan that had closed the door to the negotiations. However, it is obvious that it was Russia itself that caused the sanctions to be imposed.

Putin apparently intended to influence Japan and disrupt the close cooperation among Japan, the United States and European nations over Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. However, Japan must not be swayed. Tokyo should deepen cooperation with the international community to make Russia pay for its aggression.

Russia is beginning to treat the islands as if they were its own territory.

The Russian military conducted a large-scale exercise in the Far East in spring last year involving 25,000 soldiers as well as numerous warships, including submarines, and strategic bombers. The drill is said to have included an exercise designed to “repel the landing of an adversary force” on the northern territories.

Does Moscow really intend to say that Japan will attack the northern territories? Such an absurd claim is truly astonishing.

In addition, Russia hoisted its national flag on a lighthouse on Kaigara Island, part of the Habomai group of islets, in summer last year. Russia also legislated a special zone to attract foreign companies to the northern territories two years ago.

There have also been a number of inflammatory statements made by Russian officials that apparently offended people in Japan.

At a meeting last month, Putin said of the northern territories and the Kuril Islands that he had never been there, but would definitely go. This is seen as an indication of his refusal to make concessions to Japan on the territorial issue.

Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev also said on social media, “We don’t give a damn about the ‘feelings of the Japanese’ … those samurai who feel especially sad can end their life in a traditional Japanese way, by committing seppuku.” This statement is nothing but a taunt to the Japanese people.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 8, 2024)