“Russian President Vladimir Putin and officials of the Russian Federation have no intention to discuss the possible transfer of Etorofu and Kunashiri to Japan after returning two islands [Shikotan and Habomai],” said a Russian government official, according to a top secret report Shukan Bunshun obtained through former Foreign Ministry official Takeo Harada, who now heads the Institute for International Strategy and Information Analysis, Inc.
“An individual closely connected to the Russian president’s office and diplomatic and security authorities drafted the report,” said Harada. “The individual compiled the report based on detailed interviews with officials of government authorities.”
President Putin and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will hold a summit meeting this month. During the last summit held in November 2018, the two leaders agreed to make the 1956 Japan-Soviet Joint Declaration the basis of bilateral negotiations. The declaration specifies that the two islands of Habomai and Shikotan will be returned to Japan after concluding a peace treaty. The secret report explains why President Putin will accept the “two islands return” as follows:
“Russia has been severely criticized by Western bloc countries over the annexation of Crimea as the annexation undermines the values of international law, freedom, and democracy. If Russia can fulfill the Japan-Soviet Joint Declaration as specified in the declaration, Moscow can clearly demonstrate that Russia is a state that lives up to international legal obligations even though it loses part of its territory.”
Russia will “conduct referendums at the national and regional levels” on returning the two islands to Japan, the report says.
However, the report also indicates that there remains a deep rift between Japan and Russia. While many Japanese people voice hope that after Russia returns Habomai and Shikotan to Japan, the two countries will continue negotiating over the return of the other two islands, Kunashiri and Etorofu. But as explained at the beginning, President Putin intends to end negotiations after returning the first two islands to Japan.
In the meantime, the Russian president will attempt to make the best use of the two islands’ return as “a bargaining chip” bearing the U.S. in mind. The West has imposed economic sanctions on Russia over the annexation of Crimea. President Putin aims to drive in a wedge between Japan and the U.S.
The report continues, “(After concluding a peace treaty) Japan will guarantee that it will not participate in any sanction measures against Russia including economic or partial sanctions or any other sort of sanctions whatsoever that the U.S. has continuously imposed since 2014.”
Russia also requests that Japan not establish U.S. military bases in the Northern Territories after they are returned, but the report goes one step further.
“Japan, based on legal procedures, will not allow the U.S. to establish missile defense systems, including Aegis Ashore and short- and medium-range missiles, or military infrastructure on the islands of Shikotan and Habomai. Furthermore, Tokyo will have Washington remove those military facilities from Hokkaido and Honshu.”
“It is totally unacceptable” to remove U.S. military bases from Honshu (according to a source close to the prime minister). The top secret report disclosed President Putin’s true feelings. The path to solving the territorial dispute remains long and arduous.