By Haruka Osugi
The latest meeting between Japanese and Russian foreign ministers revealed a significant gap in perception [over the Northern Territories]. The Tokyo Shimbun recently sat down with Russian Ambassador to Japan Mikhail Galuzin to ask him about Russia’s point of view ahead of a summit between the two countries.
Question: During the meeting [with Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono], Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called on Japan to accept the outcome of World War II.
Ambassador Mikhail Galuzin: Our position is that we desire recognition of our sovereignty over the Southern Kurils (the Northern Territories). It’s important [for Japan] to accept the outcome of the war in order to advance negotiations. For Russia, the war represents victory over Nazi Germany and its allies achieved at the sacrifice of 27 million lives. During that process, the four islands became Russian territory.
Q: That’s different from Japan’s position.
Galuzin: We respect the fact that Japanese people have been historically involved in the islands. We also allow visa-free visits and fishing [by Japanese vessels] in the waters around them. We want our feelings respected based on the principle of reciprocity.
Q: Is it possible to sign a peace treaty if [Japan] accepts the outcome of the war?
Galuzin: I think we can sign [a peace treaty]. But we have to adjust security interests. We don’t regard Japan itself as a threat, but the U.S. military in Japan is not a friendly presence for Russia. It is also clear that Japan’s deployment of the “Aegis Ashore” (land-based ballistic missile interceptor system) is part of the U.S.’s missile defense system and targets Russia’s and China’s strategic weapons.
Q: The Japan-Soviet Union joint declaration, which will serve as the basis for the forthcoming negotiations, states that the Habomai islet group and Shikotan Island would be handed over [to Japan by the Soviet Union] after concluding a peace treaty.
Galuzin: It doesn’t specify under what conditions and in what form the handover will take place. I think that will be a topic for the future. Russia has explained to Japan that we’ll talk about what to do after Japan accepts the outcome of the war and unconditionally signs a peace treaty. We’re waiting for a reply from Japan.
Q: Japan takes the position that a treaty should be concluded after issues concerning the attribution of the four islands are settled.
Galuzin: Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said (during a press conference), “Japan’s position remains unchanged.” But he hasn’t referred to “the four islands” in his recent remarks.
Q: At the beginning of this year, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said, “I want the Russian residents of the Northern Territories to understand the change in attribution [of the islands from Russia] to Japan.”
Galuzin: We regarded [the remark] as the Japanese government’s attempt to pressure us and in a high-handed manner determine the negotiation results in advance.