By Li Hongmei, Special to Sina English
Russia’s former President and incumbent Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev set foot on Kunashir Island for the second time.
“The PM is visiting his country and there is nothing to clarify,” stated Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in response to comments by his Japanese counterpart on Medvedev’s visit to one of the Kuril Islands. On Tuesday, the Japanese Foreign Ministry demanded an explanation for the move from Russian ambassador to Japan Yevgeny Afanasiev.
When Medvedev arrived in the island he said that the visit to the island is an important point in his programme.
Back in 2010, Dmitry Medvedev visited the island in his capacity as the Russian President. He was the first ever Russian head of the state who visited Southern Kurils.
As expected, the visit stirred up criticism of the Japanese authorities and described the visit as an “unacceptable rudeness”.
Russia’s position, however, remains unchanged: Russia’s sovereignty over the Kurils is irreversible.
On the eve of this visit, the Japanese press published statements by Japan’s senior officials who sharply criticized the move. On Tuesday, Japanese Foreign Ministry demanded an explanation from the Russian ambassador to Tokyo. At the same time, Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba said: “The country viewed the visit as a “bucket of cold water”. In response, the Russian Foreign Ministry emphasized that those comments on the visits of Russian leaders in their own country were inappropriate.
A few hours before the visit to the island of Kunashir, Medvedev held a conference in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, which was dedicated to the development of the Kurils. He said that the region is strategically important for Russia, and the current task is to upgrade the infrastructure and create conditions for the implementation of major investment projects. In fact, businessmen from the Asia-Pacific region are highly interested in these projects.
Special attention will be paid to the Island of Iturup where an airport and cargo and passenger terminal will be built, while a port will be built on Kunashir. During the conference Medvedev emphasized that ministers must personally supervise the implementation of all the plans aimed at developing the region by visiting the sites rather than sitting in their offices in Moscow. They must visit the islands.
This was viewed as a significant remark by observers back in Russia; in particular, the Prime Minister made this demand after Japan sharply criticized his visit.
“Russia is clearly showing that these islands are part of its territory like Moscow, St. Petersburg or any other city. The Russian authorities are ready to discuss the issue but they have made it clear that they will not handover the islands, and it’s important for Russia to develop these islands. Japanese are dissatisfied over this situation, of course. But any country defends its territorial integrity. Russia is not exclusion and the Prime Minister has demonstrated this position,” Russian analyst Alexei Markin said.
Japan has made claims to the islands of Iturup, Kunashir, Habomai and Shikotan since 1945 and considers that their return is a pre-condition for the conclusion of a peace agreement with Moscow. After the World War II, these islands came under the jurisdiction of the Soviet Union.
Tokyo, on the flip side, substantiates its territorial claims citing a bilateral Russian-Japanese treaty of commerce, navigation and demilitarization of 1855.
Moscow, while insisting on its sovereignty over the islands, suggests Japan join the development of the region instead of nagging about the territorial issue.