Sergei Ivanov, Russia’s special presidential representative (on the issues of preservation of nature, the environment, and transport), gave an exclusive interview to the Mainichi Shimbun on Dec. 6. Expanding Japan-Russia cooperation in environmental protection in the Northern Territories “can be achieved apart from political and diplomatic issues,” he said. Ivanov was forward-looking regarding a Japanese environmental protection group’s concept of expanding Shiretoko, a [UNESCO] World Natural Heritage site located in eastern Hokkaido, to include the four islands of the Northern Territories and Urup (Russia controlled), one of the Chishima Islands. “It is a reasonable proposal and should be considered within the framework of the Japan-Russia Intergovernmental Committee on Trade and Economic Issues,” Ivanov said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is enthusiastic about engaging in multifaceted joint activities with Japan in the Northern Territories, and cooperation in environmental matters may be discussed at the summit between President Putin and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to be held in Japan in mid-December. Ivanov pointed out that “there are some difficult legal issues” with joint economic activities, but he stressed the importance of developing the Northern Territories, saying, “It is critical that the population outflow from the islands be stemmed. Airports, roads, and fisheries complexes have already been completed, and the economy is picking up.”
Regarding the Northern Territories issue, he reiterated the Russian position: “The problem is not the islands. The Soviet-Japanese Joint Declaration of 1956 says a peace treaty will be concluded first.” “With President Putin’s visit to Japan, progress is likely to be made on our economic and cultural ties,” he continued.
Ivanov worked at the Committee for State Security (KGB), the intelligence agency during the Soviet Union era. He was the chief of staff of the Presidential Executive Office until August 2016. He currently is a permanent member of the Security Council of the Russian Federation, which debates important matters of state. Known as a long-time ally of Putin, he has also served as minister of defense and first deputy prime minister. He visited Etorofu Island in 2005 as minister of defense, and he visited Etorofu and Kunashiri Islands in 2011 and 2014.
The Japan-Russia Peace Heritage Park Association (an NPO in Rausu Town, Hokkaido; president: Sakae Gorai) has proposed that the World Natural Heritage Site of Shiretoko be expanded. The World Heritage Convention stipulates: “The inclusion of a property [in the World Heritage List] situated in a territory, sovereignty or jurisdiction which is claimed by more than one State shall in no way prejudice the rights of the parties to the dispute,” and the World Heritage Site can be expanded if Japan and Russia agree to it.