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Russia Japan Territorial Dispute – Russia deploys missiles on Kuril island claimed by Japan

Russia Japan Territorial Dispute – Russia deploys missiles on Kuril island claimed by Japan


  • GS 2 || International Relations || India & Rest of the World || Russia

Why in the news?

Russian missiles have been deployed near the Japanclaimed Kuril Islands chain, as tensions between Russia and other nations escalate.


  • Present context: The current issue concerns the sovereignty of the South Kuril Islands (Etorofu, Kunashiri, Shikotan, and Habomai), which are claimed by Japan but occupied by Russia.
  • The Ainu, also known as the Ezo, were the first people to live on these islands.
  • They are known as Japan’s and Russia’s indigenous people.

All about Kuril Island:


  • The phrase “Kuril Islands” refers to a 1300-kilometer-long archipelago that separates the Okhotsk Sea from the North Pacific Ocean, running from Hokkaido, Japan, to Kamchatka, Russia.
  • There are 56 islands and numerous minor rocks in the archipelago. The Iturup, Kunashir, Shikotan, and Habomai rocks, which are in Russia’s ownership but claimed by Japan, are at the heart of the 50-year-old Kuril Island dispute between Russia and Japan.
  • Furthermore, the Ainu people, who are indigenous to sections of Japan, claim sovereignty of the South Kuril Islands.

Historical Background of Kuril Islands Dispute:

  • South Kuril Islands Sovereignty Issue: The sovereignty of the South Kuril Islands is at issue in the Kuril Islands dispute between Japan and Russia. Etorofu Island, Kunashiri Island, Shikotan Island, and Habomai Island are all part of the South Kuril Islands. Japan claims these islands, but Russia, as the Soviet Union’s successor state, occupies them.
  • Original Inhabitants-Ainu People: The Kurils were first inhabited by the Ainu people, and after many waves of exploration in the 17th and 18th centuries, they were occupied by Russians and Japanese. The Ainu or Aynu, also known as the Ezo in old Japanese writings, are a Japanese and Russian indigenous people.
  • Treaty of Shimoda (1855): The Treaty of Shimoda (1855) was signed by Japan and Russia in 1855, giving Japan authority of the four southernmost islands and Russia control of the rest of the group.
  • Treaty of Saint Petersburg (1875): In the Treaty of Saint Petersburg, negotiated between two countries in 1875, Russia gave Japan uncontested sovereignty of Sakhalin Island in exchange for dominion of the Kurils.
  • Yalta Agreement (1945): The islands were handed to the Soviet Union in 1945 as part of the Yalta negotiations (which were codified in the 1951 Treaty of Peace with Japan), and the Japanese population was repatriated and replaced by Soviets.
    • The Allies and Japan signed the San Francisco Peace Treaty in 1951, which specifies that Japan must relinquish “every right, title, and claim to the Kuril Islands,” but does not recognise the Soviet Union’s sovereignty over them.
  • Japan-Soviet Joint Declaration (1956): The islands conflict has hampered the signing of a peace deal to end World War II. The Japan-Soviet Joint Declaration reestablished diplomatic relations between Japan and Russia in 1956. Russia promised to hand over the two islands nearest to Japan at the time. However, Japan turned down the offer because the two islands made up only 7% of the total land area.
  • Developments after 1991: Following a series of accords, the dispute continues, with Japan claiming historical rights to the southernmost islands and continuously attempting to persuade the Soviet Union and, beginning in 1991, Russia to return those islands to Japanese
    • On the sidelines of the East Asia Summit in 2018, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe agreed to discuss based on the 1956 declaration, putting an end to the territorial dispute.

Importance of Kuril Island:

  • Natural resources: The islands are bordered by abundant fishing grounds and are suspected of having offshore oil and gas reserves. On Iturup’s Kudriavy volcano, rare rhenium deposits have been discovered. The combustion chambers, turbine blades, and exhaust nozzles of jet engines are made of nickel-based superalloys of rhenium. Because the islands include multiple volcanoes and a diverse birdlife, tourism is a possible source of income.
  • Strategic importance: Russia has installed missile systems in the region, which is of strategic importance. Russia is also planning a submarine project and wants to prevent the United States from using the islands for military purposes.
  • Cultural Importance: The Japanese people are emotionally devoted to the islands, particularly conservatives in Hokkaido.

Russia and Japan Relation:


  • Bilateral international relations: The bilateral international relations between Japan and the Russian Federation are referred to as Japanese–Russian relations.
  • Japan’s relations with Russia are a continuation of Japan’s contacts with the Soviet Union from 1917 to 1991, as well as the Russian Empire from 1855 to 1917.
  • Friendly relations: Historically, the two countries maintained friendly relations until a territorial dispute in northeastern China’s Manchuria region sparked the Russo–Japanese War in 1904, which ended in a Japanese victory and contributed to Russia’s monarchy’s demise.
  • Border disputes: From 1918 until 1922, Japan will intervene in the Russian Civil War, deploying troops to the Russian Far East and Siberia. Border disputes between the emerging Soviet Union and the Japanese Empire raged during the 1930s.

Strategic importance of Russia and Japan for each other:

  • Security partner: The Japanese government regards Russia as a key security partner in the region, as well as a counterbalance to China and North Korea.
  • Cooperation: Despite sanctions imposed by Japan’s Western partners, Japan has continued to cooperate with Russia since the commencement of the Ukrainian crisis and the annexation of Crimea in 2014.
  • Strengthen ties: Both governments have made attempts to strengthen ties, including Japanese investment in Russia, military collaboration, and the planning of a year of cultural exchange between Russia and Japan in 2018.
  • Peace treaty: Shinzo Abe followed up on Vladimir Putin’s proposal to conclude a peace treaty without preconditions before the end of the year at the 2018 Thirteenth East Asia Summit in Singapore.

Impact of such move:

  • These islands are strategically important to Russia. The development of the Northern Sea Route, a shipping path connecting the Kara Sea to the Pacific Ocean, has prompted Russian military involvement on the Southern Kurils.
  • The route travels along Russia’s Arctic Coast and would benefit the country both militarily and economically. As a result of the route, Russia has effectively become a significant Asia-Pacific power.

Mains oriented question:

Russian missiles have been deployed near the Japanclaimed Kuril Islands chain, write about the strategic importance of Island, what will be the impact of such move on Indo-pacific region? (200 words)