WWII nearly over: Russia in peace talks with Japan

Fumio Kishida and Sergei Lavrov
Fumio Kishida and Sergei Lavrov

The Second World War may finally come to an end soon as Russia and Japan enter into “detailed discussions” on a peace treaty. Technically WWII never ended, at least for Russia and Japan, as the two countries never signed off on a peace treaty despite the end of the fighting. Japan surrendered to the US after two atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, but it did not surrender to Russia.

In the subsequent 70 years of communism the lack of a peace treaty didn't make much difference as Russia hid itself behind the Iron Curtain. But since 1991, the lack of a treaty has resurfaced. Specifically, the two countries remain in dispute over the ownership of the Kuril Islands, a string of volcanic islands that stretch between Russia’s Kamchatka peninsula and Japan’s northern Hokkaido island. Russia annexed the islands right at the end of WWII and Japan wants them back as they are home to the indigenous Ainu. The San Francisco peace treaty of 1951 calls on Japan to give up the islands, but it also did not recognise the Soviet Union’s claim leaving the island’s legal status in limbo.

Meanwhile, relations with Japan have warmed somewhat after the country become a major consumer of Russian gas. Russia’s first liquid natural gas (LNG) plant and terminal is on Sakhalin Island and Japan is the biggest customer for desperately needed energy in the region. In the last few years, Russia and Japan started to move towards finally settling their differences. Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov held a detailed discussion of the problem of a Japanese-Russian peace treaty on December 3 in the run-up to President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Japan. “A fundamental discussion on the signing of a peace treaty was held,” Yoshihide Suga, chief cabinet secretary and part of the Japanese delegation, told journalists after the talks. “It has a direct link to the [forthcoming] summit in Yamaguchi prefecture.”

Lavrov said afterwards Russia and Japan had a number of identical positions on the peace treaty. “In what concerns the spheres of the treaty where our positions could be identical, there are some,” TASS quoted Lavrov as saying. “This coincidence is reflected in the clear willingness of our leaders to find a mutually acceptable resolution that would be acceptable for the public in both countries.”