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Active development of Kurils influences results of survey on handover to Japan — expert

The course of the Sakhalin Region government is laudable, political scientist Alexey Martynov believes

MOSCOW, February 19. /TASS/. Active social and economic development of the Kuril Islands has influenced the results of the survey on handing over the southern territories of the islands to Japan, political scientist Alexey Martynov told TASS on Tuesday. Earlier, a survey carried out by the All-Russia Public Opinion Research Center has shown that the majority of Kuril Islands residents consider the islands part of Russia.

The opinion poll was conducted on February 11-17 among residents of the Kuril Islands. The key question was: "Do you believe Russia should or should not hand over to Japan the Southern Kuril Islands?" Ninety-six percent of respondents believe that Russia should not hand over the Kuril Islands to Japan.

"Acting Governor of the Sakhalin Region Valery Limarenko continues to carry out the work started by former head of the region Oleg Kozhemyako. There are dynamic programs on the region’s development, including the Kuril Islands. There are also many good things from a social-economic and purely economic standpoint," Martynov noted, adding that these factors have influenced the results of the poll.

The expert said that he is not surprised by the opinion of the overwhelming majority of the Kuril Islands residents. "For those people who live on the Kuril Islands, it is their homeland, the land where they have always lived, it is what they call their own home. In this sense, the way that some reporters and officials see these territories and their residents as some relative construct, which can be switched, handed over, transferred like property, is very strange," Martynov stressed.

According to the political expert, there has been no serious discussion recently on the handover of the Kuril Islands to Japan. "However, this deliberate and provocative spread of stories (on the potential handover of the islands to Japan - TASS) in the media has caused a rather strong public reaction. And we see the opinion of Kuril residents themselves on this matter," he added.

Dispute over the Kuril Islands

Since the mid-20th century, Russia and Japan have been holding consultations in order to clinch a peace treaty as a follow-up to World War II. The Kuril Islands issue remains the key sticking point since after WWII the islands were handed over to the Soviet Union while Japan laid claims to the four southern islands.

In November 2018, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe held a meeting on the sidelines of the ASEAN summit in Singapore and agreed that the two countries would accelerate the pace of the peace negotiations based on the 1956 Joint Declaration. The document ended the state of war and said that the Soviet government was ready to hand Shikotan Island and a group of small islands called Habomai over to Japan on condition that Tokyo would take control of them once a peace treaty was signed.

However, after Japan and the United States had signed the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security in 1960, the Soviet Union withdrew its obligation to hand over the islands. A Soviet government’s memorandum dated January 27, 1960, said that those islands would only be handed over to Japan if all foreign troops were pulled out of the country.

Russia has stated on numerous occasions that the document does not set out handover conditions and thus requires further clarification.