Spór terytorialny w stosunkach rosyjsko-japońskich o przynależność południowych Wysp Kurylskich

Przemysław Burdelski


Unsolved Territorial Dispute between Russia and Japan about Sovereignty over the Southern Kuril Islands

The dispute on four southern islands of Kuril archipelago is one of the oldest, still unresolved territorial disputes of the modern world. This conflict is gaining on it’s significance due to the location in North-East Asia which is currently one of the crucial areas for global security. Japan and Russia are big powers with national interests and influence overreaching North-East Asia region. Both countries have not signed a formal peace treaty ending World War II hostilities, despite it is almost 70 years after Japan unconditional surrender to allied powers. The main obstacle that hinders normalization of relations between two nations is unsolved territorial issue of 4 islands that are named in Japan “Northern Territories” (jap. Etorofu, Kunashiri, Shikotan, Habomai) and in Russia are just called Southern Kuril Islands.

There are complex reasons behind persistence of this issue between Japan and Russia over such a long period of time. Japan was punished by allied powers after surrender, has lost permanently almost all of it’s possessions beyond the main Japanese Islands. Kurile Islands were considered one of these territories. Abridged Japanese sovereignty, communist revolution in China, outbreak of Korean War, stalinist foreign policy of Soviet Union and new American doctrine of containment caused freezing of this conflict. Important factors should be also attributed to national strategies and policies of Japan and Soviet Union (Russian Federation after 1991).

The solution to this border dispute and establishing new framework of bilateral relations between Russia and Japan would significantly change strategic picture of North-East Asia. This could be very beneficial for both Japan and Russia. This conflict has a lot of nationalist symbolism in both nations and would require very bold leadership will to finally resolve it. It is enormous political risk to propose territorial solution that would compromise some well established national imponderables. China and USA – in real policy terms – are not supporting normalization of relations between Japan and Russia, due to their strategic interests in the region. Due to these reasons, it is very unlikely that this issue will be resolved within the foreseeable future.