Hopes for a deal that would settle the island dispute between Japan and Russia seem to be fading each day despite the efforts of Prime Minister Abe and his team. He recently flew to Switzerland and Russia on a tour with the expressed purpose of hammering out a deal with President Putin. PM Abe wants Japanese territory to be returned – the four islands that have been discussed since 1956.
Mr Abe is trying to bring results but there is a growing feeling in geopolitical circles that Putin is only dangling the island issue in front of PM Abe to drive a wedge between Japan and the United States. “I believe Mr Putin is merely dangling the territorial issue as an enticing carrot in front of Mr Abe,” according to Itsuro Nakamura, a professor of Russian politics at the University of Tsukuba, according the the Japan Times in an article published 24, 2019.
The 1956 declaration states that two islands, Shikotan and Habomai would be transferred to Japan following the postwar peace treaty. However, the islands were in fact never returned to Japan. These two islands are less than 10 percent of the total disputed area, so the amount of territory in question is very small. The two large islands are likely never to be returned to Japan, according to sources but again it is the smaller ones that Mr Abe wants returned for now. Tokyo maintains that the islands were illegally occupied by Moscow, and seeks the return of all four.
Some experts believe that Putin does not have the people behind him with regards to returning the territory. Russian hardliners have recently demonstrated the recent meetings and discussions – they feel this is Russian territory and should not be used as a bargaining tool.
In the Moscow summit, both PM Abe and President Putin confirmed an earlier agreement to speed up the peace treaty talks based on the 1956 declaration.