August 11, 2015

The Kuril Islands — a Potential Object of the Russian Federation's New Territorial Losses

Critical consequences of the Russian Federation's armed aggression against Ukraine for Russia itself, have already made V. Putin's regime to cede part of their territory to China in phantasm of a hope to get support from the PRC (“Borysfen Intel” has already reported about this in the publication Russia-China: “The Crimea Is OURS”, Siberia and the Far East Are YOURS”). As of today, there are signs of the possibility Moscow's losing its other territories, including the disputed by Japan Kuril Archipelago.

Issue of the “Northern Territories”Evidence of this is Japan's more active actions to return these territories that were lost by it in 1945 on the results of the Second World War. At this, Tokyo is using for its own purposes both, the precedent of the annexation of the Crimea by the Russian Federation and the virtually hopeless situation in which Moscow has found itself as a result of international isolation by the West.

Thus, in January this year during a visit to Belgium, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Japan F. Kisida compared the situation around the Russian Federation's annexation of the Crimea with the problem of the so-called “northern territories”, i. e. the Japanese islands in the Sea of Okhotsk, which were seized by the Soviet Union in 1945. At the same time, in order to influence the leadership of the Russian Federation, Japan has joined the US and EU sanctions against Russia, and supports all the measures for further increasing the pressure on the regime of V. Putin.

Shinzo AbeAgainst the background of the events in July this year, Japan's Prime Minister S. Abe, speaking to the descendants of South Kuril Islands, expressed the Japanese side's willingness to resolve the territorial dispute with Russia already in the nearest future. At this, the Japanese side's firmness of the position on this issue was demonstrated. Thus, July 23, 2015, the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs made an official statement about the inadmissibility to Tokyo of visiting of the Kuril Islands by the head of the Russian government D. Medvedev, who had announced about such his intentions. Besides, the Japanese establishment reject the possibility of the Russian President's visit to Japan until the disputed territories have been returned by Russia.

In such circumstances Russia's having no real prospects of overcoming the crisis on its own and the inability to obtain victory in confronting the combined efforts of the leading countries of the world could force V. Putin's regime to make concessions to Japan on the Kuril Islands in exchange for easing the Japanese positions on the Russian Federation.

It is difficult to tell how this problem can be solved.

In particular, one of the possible ways out is opened by the Soviet-Japanese Joint Declaration signed in Moscow in 1956, which fixed Moscow's consent to return the Southern Kuril Islands Habomai and Shikotan after signing a peace treaty between the two countries (has never been concluded so far due to Moscow's categorical refusal to return to Japan other disputed Kuril Islands — Kunashir and Iturup and the signing in 1960 of the Military Agreement between Japan and the USA).

All OURS!In 2004, Russia, as a country-successor of the USSR, recognized the 1956 Declaration and expressed readiness to hold negotiations with Japan based on it. At the same time, the leadership of the Russian Federation kept delaying the solution of this issue, while Russia's current ruling regime led by Putin has actually backed out of the previous agreements with Tokyo.

In view of this, the other way to settle the territorial disputes between Russia and Japan may be realization of a number of Russian politicians' initiative to establish a joint economic zone with Japan in the Kuril Islands. Within the framework of this option it is offered to ensure favorable conditions for both, Russian and Japanese capital's work in the Kuril Islands.

It is also possible to spread onto the disputed islands the Russian Federation's Federal Law “On the territories of the advancing social and economic development in the Russian Federation”, which allows leasing Russian territories to foreign countries. It is on the basis of this law that Russian lands are being leased to China lately.

Then again, Japan can also use for its own purposes Russia's collapse or radical weakening as a result of the critical worsening of the socio-economic situation in the Russian Federation, which is expected already in 2016. At this, as shown by the results of independent sociological research, the majority of the population of the Kuril Islands wants to get Japanese citizenship and does not object to the return of the Kuril archipelago to Japan. In turn, this creates favorable conditions for Tokyo's using methods of the so-called “Hybrid Wars” to restore its sovereignty over the Southern Kuril Islands.

Although we can't exclude the power scenario of resolving the territorial dispute around the Southern Kuril Islands. The evidence of this is Japan's increased military activity in the Far East lately.

Japan Maritime Self-Defense ForceThus, since 2013 Japan's military spending has been increasing. In July 2014 (against the background of Russia's armed aggression against Ukraine) the Japanese Parliament passed the government's decision on the possibility of using the self-defense forces (in fact, the armed forces) outside the country to protect Tokyo's allies and in case of crisis and military provocations.

Besides, a new kind of troops has been created — Marines, which by definition is designed for offensive and reconnaissance and sabotage actions. In 2015-2016 the Marines in Japan will be provided with 17 new converted planes of the American-type “Osprey”, which can take on board up to 24 Marines with weapons.

At the same time, with the participation of the USA, Japan's missile defense system significantly has been strengthened significantly through the deployment in Japan of new radar locators with the range of detecting aerial targets at more than 1 thousand kilometers and anti-aircraft missile systems. The number of Japanese and American ships equipped with multi-missile systems “Aegis" in the region has also grown. In the nearest future this potential will be supplemented by the latest American fighter aircrafts of the fifth generation F-35B, which will be deployed on Ivakuni Air Base (Japan) of the US Marine Corps.

Apart from this, according to the recommendations of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party of Japan, it has also been proposed to substantially increase the naval and ground forces, to create ballistic medium-range missiles to destroy objects in the enemy's territory at the distance up to 500 km, and to buy modern American anti-ship missiles.

Russian 18th Machine Gun and Artillery DivisionIn its turn, the Russian Federation has been also increasing the grouping of troops both, in the Kuril Islands and in Sakhalin Island and in the Primorskiy Territory near Vladivostok.

Thus, it has been taking steps to restore, enhance and modernization of the 18th Machine Gun and Artillery Division of the Eastern Military District of the RF Armed Forces which is deployed in the disputed with Japan Kunashir and Iturup islands.

Russian A-50 Airborne early Warning and Control aircraft flying over the Sea of Japan (February, 2014)Besides, an accelerated modernization of the military infrastructure in the region (including the airfield network) is taking place and new air defense systems and units of tactical and army aviation are being deployed. Plans for further improvement and development of the group of Russian troops in the Kuril Islands were confirmed at the meeting of the board of the Russian Defense Ministry on July 29 this year.

At the same time, operational and combat trainings of the RF Armed Forces in the Far East are becoming more active and on a larger scale. In particular, in July 2015, near the disputed islands there were trainings of the Pacific Fleet of the Navy of the Russian Federation with participation of more than 20 different classes of warships and two submarines. Similar trainings were conducted in 2014. Besides, the defense of the Kuril islands is practiced within the framework of the Strategic Command and Staff trainings of the Armed Forces of the Eastern Military District series “Sunrise” (held every two or three years).

Against this background the intensity and deliberately-provocative activities of Russia in the region increases, including flights of combat and reconnaissance aircrafts with approaching Japan's airspace. In these flights are involved strategic aviation planes Tu-95MS, antisubmarine aircrafts Tu-142, front-line bombers Su-24 and reconnaissance aircrafts IL-20 and Su-24MR. The aim of these actions is to demonstrate Russia's military presence in the region, as well as reconnaissance against Japan and working on the application of missile and bomb strikes.

Defense of the Kuril IslandsOf course, a direct military clash of Japan and Russia over the disputed territories is quite unlikely. However, it cannot be ruled out completely. In particular, Japan may use force to restore its control over the Kuril Islands in case of the Russian Federation’s getting involved in a large-scale armed confrontation with Ukraine, which would demand from Moscow concentrating all its resources on the Ukrainian direction. At this, despite the significant increase in Russia's military spending, its real resources are very limited. The evidence of this is the involvement in actions in Ukraine even of units of the above-mentioned 18th Macine-Gun and Artillery Division dislocated on the Kuril Islands.

Under such circumstances, Japan can achieve its goals, especially with substantially greater strength of its naval forces not only as compared with Russia's Pacific fleet, but over the whole RF Navy (excluding Tokyo's now having submarines that do not have any real meaning in case of emergence of a territorial conflict around the Kuril Islands). Yes, Japan has more than 260 new warships alone (built after 2010), while the total number of Russian ships that can go to sea is no more than 70.

Russian-Japanese confrontationBy the way, Russia and Japan have repeatedly tested their strengths both in large-scale wars and in local armed conflicts.

Thus, the largest by scale was the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905, which was the result of excessive ambitions of the then ruling Russian regime in the Far East. Despite the decisive advantage in ground forces, Russia lost Port Arthur, Manchuria, South Sakhalin and most of its efficient fleet (1st and 2nd Pacific Squadrons). In fact, those were Russia's first territorial losses since the time of Peter I, and they initiated the collapse of the Russian Empire.

Combat actions between Russia and Japan resumed in the years 1938-1939 in the form of local conflicts between the two countries, which were provoked by Moscow around the line of the State border near Lake Hassan and the Halhingol River. The above-mentioned actions were intended to demonstrate the strength of the Red Army and to gain territorial advantage in the border zone. However, despite the significant superiority of Soviet forces in strength means and the defeat of the Japanese army at Halhingol (complete defeat of the 6th separate Japanese Army), both conflicts actually ended without result — without territorial gains or losses of the parties.

In April 1945, the Soviet Union unilaterally broke the Non-Aggression Pact with Japan and using the actual destruction of the Japanese state in its war with the United States, declared war on Japan in August of that year. This allowed Moscow to regain Sakhalin and establish its control over the Kuril Islands, which was determined by the participants of the Yalta Conference of Heads of the States of the anti-Hitler Coalition in February 1945 as the main condition for Russia's entry into the war against Japan.

July 26, 1945, the Potsdam Conference adopted the Potsdam Declaration, which limited sovereignty of Japan to the islands of Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu and Shikoku. By the time the Japanese island of Okinawa had already been occupied by the United States. However, the transfer of the Kuril Islands to the Soviet Union was not mentioned directly in the Document. August 8, 1945 the USSR joined the Declaration, and August 9, the Soviet Union declared war on Japan. August 13, 1945, Japan surrendered to the United States, and August 14 — Japan accepted the terms of the above-mentioned Declaration.

The Manchurian Offensive and Kuril Islands Landing operations (August, 1945)August 9, 1945, the Soviet Union, by the forces of its the three fronts launched the Manchurian Offensive Operation against the Japanese Kwantung Army. August 16, the Red Army landed in Southern Sakhalin and from August 18 to September 1, 1945 — carried out the Kuril Islands Landing Operation and won the Southern Kuril Islands Urup, Iturup, Kunashir and the Small Kuril Islands. September 2, 1945, Japan surrendered to the Soviet Union. At the same time, the transfer of the Kuril Islands to Moscow again was not mentioned directly.

Nevertheless, February 2, 1946, by the Decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, Southern Sakhalin and the Kuril Islands were included into the newly formed Southern Sakhalin region as part of the RSFSR's Khabarovsk Kray (territory). A year later, January 2, 1947, Southern Sakhalin region became a part of the RSFSR.

Thus, the Soviet Union annexed the Japanese territory after Japan's surrender to the US and the USSR, that is, when Japan had already been disarmed and could not resist. In 1947, the local population of the annexed islands was deported to Japan (including more than 17 thousand ethnic Japanese and an unspecified number of Ainu whom no one counted). In turn, ethnic Koreans were partly relocated to Central Asia and partly left in Sakhalin without giving them any citizenship till the 1970s.

 

Give us back the “Northern Territories”All this confirms the illegality of Russia's annexation of the Kuril Islands and reserves Tokyo's right to defend the territorial integrity of the country by all means available to it. By the way, a similar problem was solved between Japan and the United States peacefully, with taking into consideration the interests of both countries. Thus, in 1972, the USA returned Okinawa to Japan in exchange for Japanese side's agreeing to the deployment of the US military base there.

Besides, back in 1952 the US Congress by the special resolution recognized the Southern Sakhalin and Kuril Islands' belonging to Japan. Most of other countries occupy a similar position and this gives Japan a guarantee for international support in the issue of the restoration of its territorial integrity.