South Kuril Islands are the biggest problem and important part of relations between Russia and Japan. Japan links the issue of their affiliation with the conclusion of a peace treaty with Russia. Moscow offers Tokyo to focus on cooperation in economic sphere, including through joint economic activities in the southern Kuriles. Japanese authorities were
Japanese authorities were not satisfied with such a statement of the question for a long time, but recently Tokyo, pretending on these islands, still hopes to solve the territorial problem with Russia through the development of economic relations between the two countries, including the southern Kuriles. At the same time, the Japanese government states that "under no circumstances" will allow its citizens and companies to conduct economic activities in the Kuriles in compliance with Russian laws, because this undermines its position on the ownership of the South Kuril Islands not of Russia, but of Japan.
After Shinzo Abe became Prime Minister of Japan, some progress has been made on that issue. In December 2016, during the visit in Japan of Russian president Vladimir Putin the two parties agreed on the document about the beginning of consultations on joint economic activities of two countries on the South Kuriles. As part of the implementation of the agreements in June and October 2017, two business missions of Japanese entrepreneurs and officials visited the Islands, who showed interest in the development of the Islands.
At the same time, the Abe administration hopes that Russia will agree to allow Japanese companies to participate in local economic activities in the Kuriles on the basis of a special legal framework outside the usual Russian legislation. Moreover, the Japanese hint that the possibility of such a "special legal system" was allegedly discussed in a confidential face-to-face conversation between Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin during the latter's visit to Japan in December 2016. However, immediately after that conversation, the presidential aide for international affairs Y. Ushakov stressed that we are talking about the work of Japanese companies in the Kuril Islands in compliance with the Russian legislation. In the same vein, the Deputy Minister of foreign affairs of the Russian Federation I. Morgulov has repeatedly spoken about this.
It should be noted that in political circles of Japan from the very beginning, the Prime Minister was reproached for his too soft position towards Moscow and unjustified reliance only on his "especially trusting" relations with V. Putin. At the same time, it was noted that the Kremlin, seeing this, on the contrary, tightens its position on Japanese territorial claims. In turn, Japanese authorities suggested that Russian leadership took a tough stance on the Kuril issue due to the upcoming presidential elections, and after the re-election, when the situation is calmer, Russia could give consent to the work of Japanese companies on the Islands within the framework of a special legal framework. That is why the Japanese Prime Minister S. Abe was one of the first who congratulated V. Putin with re-election on the highest state post. Tokyo thinks that "while Putin, who enjoys stable support at home, continues to be in power", a territorial issue will be solved. The official position of Japan on the Kuril Islands issue announced the day after the elections in Russia, Secretary General of the Cabinet Yoshihide Suga, having declared Tokyo's intention to hold "persistent negotiations" on that issue in the future.
And now the Japanese government continue to "promote joint economic activities with Russia on four northern islands and strive for conducting the peace treaty, solving a territorial issue", connecting a new term of V. Putin with their hopes to get the southern Kuril Islands into the state. The Japanese Prime Minister hopes for the breakthrough in that issue, and 2018 year which was officially proclaimed the cross Year of Japan and Russia, is defined as a year of possibilities. Thus, S. Abe expects significant progress in resolving a territorial issue during his visit on 25-26 of May in Russia to participate in the international economic forum in St. Petersburg and the opening ceremony of the Year of Japan in Russia. Moreover, the Japanese government wants to invite Russian president Vladimir Putin to Japan on May, 2019. V. Putin is expected to visit the Land of the rising sun in any case next year, to take part in The G20 summit, the date of which has not yet been announced. Furthermore, S. Abe will try to hold individual negotiations with V. Putin on the islands issue during the East economic forum, which will be held in Vladivostok on 6 and 7 September, 2018.
It should be noted that the administration of S. Abe considers not particularly large-scale joint economic projects, which seem to be a very modest step against the background of Japan's official goal to return all four Islands, as a gambit. Seeking permission for Japanese companies to return to the Islands, Tokyo wants to use these projects for strengthen its influence on the Kuril Islands. In a long-term perspective, the Japanese government hopes that it would be possible to use that influence for solving the dispute in more propitious way.
In that long-term strategy, for Tokyo it is important to obtain Moscow's initial consent to the work of Japanese companies on the Islands within the framework of a special legal framework. This will allow Japan to create a small gap that can be used later for a larger breakthrough. During the March meeting with students from the Hokkaido Prefecture of Japan, the winner of the competition of oral presentations devoted to the "Northern territories", Abe said that the problem of the peace treaty will be resolved "during the lifetime of his generation". And this achievement the Prime Minister of Japan is going to "pass on to descendants".
Meanwhile, during the visit of Russian foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to Tokyo on March 20-21, projects of Russian-Japanese economic activity in the southern Kuriles in five regions (mariculture, wind energy, creation of greenhouses, garbage disposal and organization of package tourist trips) were concretized. At the same time, S. Lavrov, saying that "the dialogue is developing constructively in a good, positive atmosphere" voiced Moscow's position on Tokyo's unceremonious demand to change the Russian legislative system "taking into account Japanese requirements". As the Minister said, Moscow "does not see the need to create any supranational body" on Russian territory. At the same time, Lavrov focused on economic privileges and benefits for foreign, including Japanese, companies willing to work in the Kuriles, calling such benefits "the essence of the agreements". This is, first of all, the regime of the territories of advanced development and the Free Port of Vladivostok.
The representative of the Japanese foreign Ministry, M. Yasushi, recognizes that "the issue of concluding a peace Treaty is a very difficult task", which none of the predecessors has been able to resolve for more than 70 years. However, all post-war problems between Russia and Japan have long been settled. Peace between Russia and Japan actually came after the surrender of Japan in 1945, and the legal state of war was stopped by the Soviet-Japanese Declaration of 1956. In the current conditions, a formal peace Treaty with Japan is a clear anachronism. Nevertheless, S. Abe is going to "move forward" on the peace Treaty, which actually serves as a cover for the solution of the territorial issue – the unjustified Japanese claims to the southern Kuriles. And Japan's demonstration of active participation in economic cooperation in the Kuriles is done with a quite pragmatic goal – to encourage the Russian leadership, if not immediately to give the Kuril Islands, then at least agree to discuss with Tokyo the prospects for such a transfer. However, Tokyo's demands to Moscow to change the legal framework on the Islands in favor of Japan, so that it takes into account Japanese claims to the "Northern territories", only create additional difficulties in the relations between the two countries.