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Gorbachev’s spokesman refutes Japanese media claims about his Kurils-related remarks

The ex-president's interpreter revealed that Kyodo was quoting some diplomatic records and not a transcript of the conversation between Mikhail Gorbachev and Japan’s ex-prime minister
Mikhail Gorbachev Sergei Bobylev/TASS
Mikhail Gorbachev
© Sergei Bobylev/TASS

MOSCOW, December 25. /TASS/. Allegations by the Japanese news agency Kyodo to the effect "former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev acknowledged the need to resolve a dispute with Japan over the sovereignty of a group of islands lying off Hokkaido in a 1988 meeting" (the Soviet Union denied the very existence of this problem as such), are a fake, Gorbachev’s interpreter, chief of the international and media relations office at the Gorbachev Foundation, Pavel Palazhchenko, told TASS on Wednesday.

"Kyodo quotes some diplomatic records, and not a transcript of the conversation between Mikhail Gorbachev and Japan’s former prime minister, Yasuhiro Nakasone," Palazhchenko said. "That conversation was documented and its transcript is kept at Russia’s state archive. A copy of it exists in Mikhail Gorbachev’s personal archive, too."

"The transcript is clear evidence that the remarks the Japanese embassy attributes to Gorbachev are a fake. Gorbachev never said anything like this," Palazhchenko added.

Japanese claims

Kyodo says that according to declassified Japanese Foreign Ministry records Gorbachev dropped the rumored remark during a long conversation with Japan’s former prime minister, Yasuhiro Nakasone, who paid a visit to Moscow. The records were labelled "top secret" and "urgent."

During the July 22, 1988 meeting in the Kremlin that lasted for two hours and forty minutes Nakasone reportedly called the Soviet Union’s takeover of the Southern Kurils "Stalin's mistake" and said "the dispute should be settled based on the 1956 joint declaration that set a path for the countries to ink a formal peace treaty," Kyodo reports.

According to the records "the declaration stated that the Soviets would return two of the four islands that make up the Northern Territories, called the Southern Kurils by Moscow, after a peace treaty is signed."

According to a report by the Japanese embassy in Moscow, says Kyodo, Gorbachev dismissed this proposal and "countered that Japan was the one that had been unwilling to accept the return of the two islands — Shikotan and the Habomai islet group — demanding instead that all four revert to its control." He also reportedly added that "the 1960 revision of the Japan-U.S. security alliance, which allowed for the continued stationing of American troops in Japan, had made it even more difficult to find common ground," Kyodo’s report runs.

But in the end, the agency says, the Soviet leader allegedly stated, "we have to think of something, somehow" to resolve the dispute.

Tokyo interpreted this as an important stride forward. High-ranking diplomat Kazuhiko Togo, who accompanied Nakasone as head of the Japanese Foreign Ministry's Soviet desk, said it became the starting point for future negotiations.

Gorbachev eventually made a trip to Japan in April 1991. In a joint statement signed after the talks the Soviet Union acknowledged the existence of the territorial problem in relations with Tokyo, but refused to make any concessions on this issue.