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Russian Foreign Ministry says holds no talks on status of Kuril Islands

So far, two rounds of consultations have taken place, which focused on joint economic activities on the islands

MOSCOW, February 5. /TASS/. The Russian Foreign Ministry has informed lawmakers the it held no talks on the status of the Kuril Islands in 2018, State Duma (the lower house of parliament) Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Leonid Slutsky told TASS on Tuesday, citing the ministry’s response to the State Duma’s request.

On December 18, 2018, State Duma members instructed the Foreign Affairs Committee to request the Foreign Ministry to provide information about Russian-Japanese talks on the peace treaty issue and the status of the Kuril Islands.

"A request was sent and a response arrived, which was brought to the attention of all State Duma members. The response said that no talks had been held with Japan concerning the status of the Kuril Islands," Slutsky said.

He added that, according to the Foreign Ministry, two rounds of consultations had taken place, which focused on joint economic activities on the Kuril Islands. "This work is being done in accordance with Russian-Japanese agreements and in the interest of the Russian people as it is aimed at boosting the region’s social and economic development," the senior lawmaker stressed.

Dispute over Kurils

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 pointed out on numerous occasions that the document does not clarify handover conditions and thus required further clarification.

Putin-Abe meeting

Putin and Abe held a meeting in Moscow on January 21. The Russian leader confirmed that Moscow was interested in signing a peace treaty based on the 1956 document. He also emphasized the need to find a solution "that would be acceptable for the people of Russia and Japan." The parties agreed to continue boosting joint economic activities on the southern Kuril Islands in the areas of aquaculture, greenhouse farming, tourism, wind energy and waste management.

Peace treaty talks

On January 14, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his Japanese counterpart Taro Kono held talks in Moscow, which were dedicated to the peace treaty issue. The Russian top diplomat stressed that Moscow had no intention to discuss its sovereignty over the southern Kuril Islands. The next round of high-level talks is expected to take place in February.