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Kuril Islands- UPSC Current Affairs

May 03, 2022

Kuril Islands

Kuril Islands is an important topic from UPSC CSE Current Affairs point of view.

Read further to know more about the topic to upgrade your UPSC exam preparation and find the topic's relevance to the UPSC syllabus.

For Prelims: Kuril Island Dispute, Treaties and Agreements Related to the Kuril Islands

For Mains: International Treaties & Agreements, Kuril Island Dispute.

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Why in the News?

Recently, Japan’s Diplomatic Bluebook for 2022 described the Kuril Islands as being under Russia’s “illegal occupation”.

  • These Kuril Islands are known as ‘Northern Territories’, by Japan.

Probable Question

What are Russia's and Japan's respective claims over the Kuril Islands? Why has the problem resurfaced again?

Key Points

About Kuril Islands/ Northern Territories

  • These are a set of four islands situated between the Sea of Okhotsk and the Pacific Ocean near the north of Japan's northernmost prefecture, Hokkaido. 
  • Both Moscow and Tokyo claim sovereignty over them though the islands have been under Russian control since the end of World War II. 
  • The Soviet Union had seized the islands at the end of World War II and by 1949 had expelled its Japanese residents. 
  • Japan claims that the disputed islands have been its part since the early 19th century.
  • These islands have been under the Russian administration since 1945.

Contesting Claims

  • Japan:
  • According to Tokyo, Japan’s sovereignty over the islands is confirmed by several treaties like the Shimoda Treaty of 1855, the 1875 Treaty for the exchange of Sakhalin for the Kuril Islands (Treaty of St. Petersburg), and the Portsmouth Treaty of 1905 signed after the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-05 which Japan had won.
  •  Russia:
    • Russia claims the Yalta Agreement (1945) and the Potsdam Declaration (1945) as proof of its sovereignty and argues that the San Francisco Treaty of 1951 is legal evidence that Japan had acknowledged Russian sovereignty over the islands.
      • However, Japan argues that the San Francisco Treaty cannot be used here as the Soviet Union never signed the peace treaty.  
    • Under Article 2 of the treaty, Japan had “renounced all right, title and claim to the Kuril Islands.

Resolving the Dispute

  • Since 1991, there have been many attempts to resolve the dispute and sign a peace treaty. 
  • The most recent attempt was under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe when joint economic development of the disputed islands was explored.
  • In fact, both countries had agreed to have bilateral negotiations based on the 1956 Japan-Soviet Joint Declaration.
  • Russia was even willing to give back two islands, the Shikotan Island and the Habomai islets, to Japan after the conclusion of a peace treaty as per the 1956 declaration.
  • But nationalist sentiments on both sides prevented the resolution of the dispute.

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  • Economic: Northern Territories/Kuril Islands are surrounded by fishing grounds and probably contain offshore reserves of oil and gas.
  • Strategic: The islands are strategically important to Russia because they guarantee safe access through the Sea of Okhotsk to the Pacific Ocean for the Russian Navy.
  • Culture: The Japanese people, especially conservatives in Hokkaido, are emotionally attached to the islands.

Image Source: The Hindu

About Diplomatic Blue Book

The Diplomatic Bluebook of Japan is an annual report on Japan's foreign policy and international diplomacy published by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Japan since 1957.

News Source: The Hindu

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