Is peace treaty between Russia and Japan acquiring real contours?

During the visit of Yoriko Kavaguchi, Japan's foreign minister, to Russia on June 23-25, the sides will examine the issue of the soonest possible conclusion of a peace treaty between the two countries, a spokesman for Japan's Foreign Ministry said.

He quoted Russian Foreign MinisterSergei Lavrov who said at a meeting with Kavaguchi in the United States that Russia and Japan needed a breakthrough in the efforts to improve their relations.

The Russian and Japanese foreign ministers also confirmed the intention of the two countries' leaders to meet within the framework of the G8 summit in Sea Island (USA) on June 8-10, and this fall in Chile where Russian President Vladimir Putin and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi will take part in the APEC summit.

Yoriko Kavaguchi also informed Sergei Lavrov of Koizumi's plans to visit Pyongyang next Saturday. This visit is expected to lead to the return of relatives of the five repatriated Japanese citizens to their homeland.

Sergei Lavrov expressed hope that the problem concerning the relatives of the kidnapped people would be resolved. In his opinion, this will have a positive effect on negotiations on North Korea's nuclear problem.

It should be recalled that, since the end of World War II, Moscow and Tokyo have never succeeded in signing a full-fledged peace treaty. At that time, after the capitulation of Nazi Germany (the main ally of militarist Japan in Europe), Soviet landing troops disembarked on the Kuriles, which had been turned into an impregnable fortress by the Japanese, and drove the enemy from the islands after two weeks of heavy battles. One can still see a tank graveyard on the North Kurile island of Shumshu.

In Yeltsin's time in office, Russia recognized the existence of a territorial problem with Japan. In Japan, the government has to heed the demands of certain circles to get back the four southern Kurile Islands which belonged to Japan from 1875, i.e. Uturup, Kunashir, Shikotan and Habomai. Meanwhile, Moscow believes that the sides' failure to settle this issue should not hinder the development of relations between the two countries in all spheres, primarily in the energy sphere. Recently, Japan has been displaying more and more interest in the construction of a gas pipeline from Russian East-Siberian deposits to the port of Nakhodka on the western coast of the Sea of Japan, from which the Japanese archipelago is close at hand, However, quite unexpectedly Tokyo met with serious competition on the part of Beijing which is trying to push through a Chinese gas pipeline route (to the city of Daquin in the north of China). The Russian government has not yet taken a final decision on this issue.

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