Valery Timoshenko — The Interview to Interfax agency

Valery Tymoshenko , the senior assistant of the Department of the Universal History of Federal State Educational Institution of Higher Professional Education “Far Eastern State University of Humanities” (FESUH) said: the “A growing number of the Japanese does not consider the theme of return of the northern territories to be essential”

The Four islands of the Kurile ridge have remained the object of the territorial claims of Japan to Russia during many decades.

In a threshold of the Day of “Northern territories”, which is celebrated in the country of “the land of the rising sun” for more than 30 years, Valery Timoshenko ,the associate professor, the candidate of historical sciences, the senior assistant of Department of the universal history of Federal State Educational Institution of Higher Professional Education “Far Eastern State University of Humanities” (FESUH) , the orientalist, shared by his opinion about the problems of the Kurile Islands with the Interfax agency interviewer.

– Valery! A position of Tokyo concerning the Kurile Islands is that the northern territories belong to Japan historically. Whether this statement has any bases?

– I think, legality of the right of the Japanese side to pretend to the Kurile is highly questionable. The matter is that Japan was the feudal state for a long time and thus it was the closed state too. While Japanese only just started to occupy Hokkaido, the Russians have ruled the Kurile Islands systematically.

The Russian sailors stepped into the Kurile Islands for the first time in the middle of the 17th century. In 1654 Stadukhin, the Yakut Cossack foreman visited there. In 1698 Vladimir Atlasov ,the Russian pathfinder, the Siberian Cossack, travelling on the Kamchatka lands, had seen the Kurile islands. Moreover, he discovered the Japanese person in one of the settlements of the Kamchatka natives called the “itelmen”. His name was Denbei. It was a merchant from Osaka who was thrown out during a storm on the Kamchatka coast. Atlasov the merchant with itself and presented him to Peter The Great (Peter I). Then Russia began to hear all more about Japan and take interest in this country.

The first official expedition to the Kurile Islands was under the Peter’s I order. It was headed by Evreinov and Luzhin ,the geodesists ,in 1721. They had floated along the islands and laid down upon the chart them. Then, Evreinov personally to Peter I handed over the report on this navigation and a card to Peter I .Further, in 1739 there was expedition of Shpanberg who gave the Russian names to the Kurile Islands. As a result, there were the Russian settlements of the Cossacks on the Kunashir Island in the middle of the 18th century. Having brought the “ainy” to the Russian citizenship, the Russians built the wintering and parking places on the islands. They taught the “ainy” to use fire-arms, to breed cattle and to grow up some kinds of vegetables. Many “ainy” converted the Orthodoxy and were trained in reading and writing.

The “Map of the Irkutsk Vicegerency”, consisting of 4 areas and divided into 17 districts, incontestably testifies about that the Kurile Islands were a part of the Russian empire during the board of Ekaterina II .All the Kurile Islands were depicted on the map made in 1796, including these four islands to which Japan pretends. They were painted as the territory of the Russian empire. Later, the Kurile Islands, laid down upon the chart, were confirmed by Laperuz, the French sailor and its expedition. Thus, the fact of the discovering and the development of the Kurile Islands by the Russians is incontestable.

– What about the Japanese?

– The Japanese side asserts that in the 14th century one of the Japanese dukes sent his people to this islands during the period of the fudal division. Nevertheless, he did not assert about the belonging to his dukedom. It is certainly known that in the 18 th not only the Kurile Islands but a great part of Hokkaido were not the Japanese territories. The Japanese have not been living on the Kurile Islands till the middle of the 19th century. Moreover, the fact, that the Russians had appeared on the South Kurile Islands, on Iturup ,in particular, before the residents of “the land of the rising sun”, is also proved by the Japanese sources.

– As far as it is known, in subsequent years the Russian and Japanese relations became better in subsequent years. There was a succession of difficult and long negotiations. However, were the Simod agreement (1855 ) and the Saint Petersburg agreement (1875) mutually beneficial?

– Undoubtedly. We needed an          alliance partner on the Pacific Ocean ,or, at least, a friendly country, to take a threat from the Pacific coast to the minimum. The animated cartoon called “Difficult friendship” was created in Japan based on the negotiations according to the Simod treaty.

The earthquake and the tsunami happened in the period of the negotiations in the area of the city of Simod. There were huge destructions on the island but here, the Russian seamen saved the Japanese. It caused the respect from the side of the native people, and the attitude toward Russians changed. It was the beginning of improvements of relations between our countries.

The Russian side does not have any claims to these contracts . The Japanese crossed out all. Having taken advantage of the success in the Russian and Japanese war, Japan compelled Russia to sign the Portsmouth peace agreement by which all arrangements reached earlier were crossed out.

Having insisted on the divestiture of the southern half of Sakhalin to own advantage the Japanese government lost the legal right to own the Kurile Islands. When Sergey Vitte, the Russian diplomat had expressed objections ,the Japanese representative declared: « The War crosses out all treaties»

– The results of the World War II were repeatedly discussed by the public. In 1951 Japan signed the San Francisco peace treaty having refused from all claims for the Kurile Islands. All these arrangements were fixed in the Potsdam declaration. Why has Japan raised the question about the islands once again?

– To answer this question, it is necessary to note an important point in the Stalin’s and Roosevelt’s relations. The American president insisted on the introduction of the USSR into war against Japan. The Americans had been sustaining the great losses.

Roosevelt had applied to Stalin before the Teheran conference, having asked, what the USSR would want to receive for the participation in the war in the Far East.

The USSR did not want to participate in war, but as such question was sounded, I.Stalin did not waste time on trifles. He declared, that the USSR wanted to receive the Kurile Islands, Sakhalin, the Chinese Eastern Railway, Port Arthur. In a word, everything, that imperial Russia had possessed once. F.Ruzvelt agreed.

When in 1955 the Soviet and Japanese negotiations about the termination of the condition of the war and the restoration of diplomatic relations had begun, the Soviet side expressed readiness to pass the Habomai and the Shibotan islands to Japan to which Japan had pretend.

The peace treaty would have signed, if there had been not intervention of the USA. The USA declared, that the San Francisco peace treaty a territorial question opened, ostensibly not having defined the accessory of the territories from which Japan had refused.

Thus, the rights of the USSR not only to four southern islands of archipelago, but also to Sakhalin and all the Kurile Islands were left in serious doubt.

The American government made Tokyo promote a condition unacceptable for Moscow of “return” not two, but four islands, including the largest both explored the Iturup and the Kunashir islands.

– It turns out, that is the thesis about illegally occupied Japanese primordial territories a product of the cold warbetween the USA and the USSR? Does it also contradict the facts of history?

– Quite right. Apparently, that it is profitable also today for the USA also today, that territorial dispute between our countries will be unresolved. From here, it is a hard position of Japan with requirements of the immediate return of all islands and refusal to discuss the offer of the disposal of a part of the territories. Most likely, it is convenient for the Americans to support a disputed condition of Japan with other countries of the Asian-Pacific region.

In a word, the Kurile Islands question for Russia is historical, while it is political one for Japan.

– After the failure of the federal target program “the Kurile Islands” in 1994-2005, when only 40 from more than150 planned projects had been realized, the statement, that the Russians are the bad economic executives has strengthened the argument of the supporters of the disposal of the islands to Japan. What do you think about this? How do you estimate the today’s progress of the Kurile Islands?

– The appeal to give the Kurile Islands because supposedly all the same the Russians are not able to manage, have anything to do with the political solution of the problem. After the World War II the USSR, and then and Russia, did not have a possibility to engage seriously in an accomplishment of the islands for the objective reasons but it does not mean that in the future we will manage to change a state of affairs in the future.

According to Mass media, the level of development of social area on the islands has grown in ten times for the last some years. For all I know, more than 20 new objects of a transport infrastructure and social structure are put already into operation in the islands within the limits of the federal target program “the Kurile Islands” for 2007-2015.

The authorities carry out all plans concerning the Kurile Islands. For example, for the first, the asphalting of roads in the Kunashir and Iturup islands has begun last year. Fish-breeding factories, passenger ship terminals, cargo piers and terminals, deep-water quays and berthing complexes will appear in the islands. The construction of habitation and kindergartens is also begun .It is important, as there is a lot of decrepit habitation in the islands. The concept of the development of tourism in the Kurile Islands is prepared.

At the same time, the northern Kurile Islands stayed a little bit deprived the attention of the authorities.

– Valery! Sergey Lavrov, the head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia, before recent visit to Japan on the 28-29th of January, has noted the importance of consideration of complicated questions of history, first of all, within the limits of the dialogue of scientists and historians. Do you consider such a dialogue concerning the Kurile Islands is possible?

– As for the Russian side, we are opened for dialogue and applied repeatedly to the Japanese colleagues with the offer to act at conferences for our students sounding the position concerning the Kurile islands ridge. Unfortunately, while the Japanese historians avoid discussions about this subject matter, that once again proving, that the decision of this question has political reasons. It is proved also by refusal of our neighbours from the idea to create of the joint commission of historians to search the compromise about the problem of the Kurile Islands offered by Russia.

Meanwhile, my personal experience of the dialogue with the Japanese colleagues shows that the increasing number of Japanese does not consider the subject matter of the return of the northern territories to be the basic one.

In the mean time, my personal experience of dialogue with the Japanese colleagues speaks that the increasing number of Japanese does not consider subject matter of return of northern territories basic. Many people are ready to master the Kurile Islands together with the Russians, as well as the Russian government suggests to do.

It would be a very reasonable decision. Let’s leave a legal belonging of islands in a side. Now, they are settled on Russia. Let’s remain them settled on Russia . Thus, we shall give an opportunity to the Japanese live in the Kurile Islands and to create a special economic zone where business will develop. It is a quite good neighborly gesture.

It is possible to return, certainly, to the declaration of 1956 and really to pass the Habamai and the Shikotan islands. In any case joint development of the islands would be quite reasonable output from the current situation.


Translated by Kalyuzhnaya Irina, APIR Center

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