The Kuril Islands: A Lesson for Crimea?


December 17, 2016 – Fort Russ – 

Ruslan Ostashko, LiveJournal – translated by J. Arnoldski – 

Dear friends, do you remember the NATO base in Ulyanovsk? Internet old-timers probably remember, as do I. The reader who only recently started following the stormy political discussions on the Russian internet will probably ask: what is this nonsense? After all, there is no NATO base in Ulyanovsk. Yet the eternal cause for hysteria remains on the internet. I remembered this example while following the reactions on social networks to Putin’s visit to Japan. You won’t believe it, but people are already saying that the Kuril islands have been given back to the Japanese. 

The most interesting part is that those who believe in this are the same people who didn’t learn anything from the so-called “NATO base” at Ulyanovsk or the fakes about the “secret million cities of the Chinese” in Siberia. The special irony of this situation is the fact that foreign media, who would with pleasure tell the world about how Putin is trading away territories, are saying nothing of this. They’re merely writing about how Putin continues to attract foreign investments and have quoted Putin’s assistance, Ushakov, who once again stressed that the islands are Russian territory. 

If we compare this position to how things stood before, then it is obvious that only Japan’s position has changed, and that it is the Japanese prime minister who has made concessions for which he is now being harshly criticized by Japanese ultra-nationalists. Before, the Japanese government practically prohibited Japanese businesses from pursuing any kind of projects on the Kuril Islands. Japanese state agencies refused to discuss questions of economic cooperation on the Kurils. Why? Because they rightly believed that the activities of Japanese companies, who would have to work on the islands according to Russian law and pay Russian taxes, would mean de facto recognition of Russia’s sovereignty over the islands.

The situation with the Kuril Islands and Japanese companies is really similar to the situation surrounding Crimea. The Americans have prohibited their companies from working in Crimea and, for example, Apple and Google are operating in ways so as to not legitimize Crimea’s return to Russia through their commercial activities. The same applies to European companies. For this very same reason, Kiev is sensitive to the entry of Turkish ships into Crimean ports and the participation of Chinese companies in laying underwater cable to Crimea. Also for this reason, Kiev has forbidden Ukrainian companies and banks from working in Crimea. Every such action represents de facto recognition of Russian sovereignty over Crimea.

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The same thing is happening now with Japan. The moment that a Japanese company creates a joint venture with a Russian company on the islands, it will have to register with Russian state authorities and thereby actually recognize the islands as Russian. When Japanese companies obtain a license of any type from Russian state agencies to operate in this region or when they pay any kind of local tax, they also are admitting that the islands are under Russian jurisdiction.

If the Japanese want to be on these islands, that’s wonderful. Every Japanese passport presented to the Russian Federal Migration Service is another documentary recognition of Russian sovereignty over the islands. 

Prime Minister Abe has been pragmatic. It is clear to him that he will not gain sovereignty over the islands, so he has something else to show voters: those wishing to do business on the islands or simply visit them can do this thanks to the flexibility of the position of the Japanese government.

This must be really offensive to Japanese nationalists and the military, but Japanese business has breathed a sigh of relief and has, for example, proposed that Rosneft jointly participate in the geo-exploration of Russian territorial waters, on which a memorandum has already been signed.

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Finally, I am absolutely sure that we will win over our European and American partners in the same way. When an Apple Store will open in Crimea and European tourists will get visas at the airport in Simferopol, then the EU’s official position will have no meaning…

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