Negotiations between Japan and USSR/Russia on the Northern Territories: Lessons for the Abe-Putin Renewal of Talks

Many may be so weary of talk about negotiations on the territorial dispute between Tokyo and Moscow as nothing more than a broken record that they will be tempted to skip this article. To catch their attention, I am starting with three bold statements. First, the talks made considerable progress, especially in 2000-2001 under Putin, and came closer to reaching the point of testing whether a breakthrough was in sight than most realize. There were multiple windows of opportunity during that time, and afterwards, that were closed by diplomatic stumbles, but they should have been left open to see what was possible. Second, the international images of Abe and Putin as driven by national identity extremism and, thus, even more unlikely than other leaders of their countries to reach a pragmatic compromise on a sensitive territorial dispute, misjudge their views on this particular dispute and the signals they have been sending. They are bold leaders, who at this time are in a better position to deal with this dispute than in the past. Third, the geopolitical and domestic contexts in each nation for reaching a deal are decidedly more favorable than ever. These assertions are explained below.

In Topics of the Month, I am tracing the evolution of the handling of this issue from the time of the Abe-Putin summit on April 30, 2013, covering not only the way diplomats and the media on both sides are responding, but also how conditions that may affect the way this issue is handled are changing. In this background article, I consider factors that may not be well known concerning the history of the territorial dispute. The way that the origin of the problem is understood in Japan and the impact of the Cold War on this issue for both sides need to be appreciated if we want to recognize the past barriers to resolving this dispute and contemplate how Abe and Putin may try to overcome them. The agreements reached and concessionary proposals made during the talks leading to the Irkutsk agreement in 2001 should also be appreciated for what they did and did not accomplish. Finally, in this background article I take a fresh look at the decade after the Irkutsk agreement was repudiated by Japan, seeing a more dynamic period than many usually acknowledge, although the opportunities that were created were squandered.

The Origin of the Problem

The territorial issue concerning the four islands of Kunashiri, Etorofu, Shikotan, and Habomai has been at the center of Japan-Russia relations already for 68 years since the end of the Second World War. Still the two countries have not been able to resolve this issue. Why? What is the logic that has emerged out of these lengthy negotiations that should guide new efforts at finding a resolution, if the two countries are now so inclined?

It is Japan that has given constant emphasis to the necessity to resolve this issue with the Soviet Union and then with Russia. In short, “the territorial issue is a reminder of the pain in the hearts of the Japanese people, which is directly related to how Japan fought the Pacific War and how it faced defeat.”1 Japanese military might was on the verge of collapse when the Suzuki Kantaro cabinet found the will to surrender and conveyed that on July 13, 1945, to the Soviet leadership. But, as history has shown, Stalin in Yalta had agreed with Roosevelt to enter the war with Japan three months after Germany’s surrender. Thus, Japan’s request was ignored, the Potsdam Declaration was issued on July 26, an atomic bomb fell on Hiroshima on August 6, and on August 9 the second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki and the Soviet Union attacked Japan in Manchuria. It was a breach of the Neutrality Pact, which was still effectively binding on the Soviet Union. After the surrender, approximately 600,000 soldiers were detained in the Soviet gulag. Also, the four islands listed above, over which Japanese sovereignty had been established in the 1855 Treaty of Shimoda between Russia and Japan, were occupied by the Soviet Union despite allied commitment to the principle of territorial non-aggrandisement declared in the Atlantic Charter and the Cairo Declaration.

Thus, Japan looked back on the war with very different memories about three types of countries. First, it recognized that it had caused suffering in China by its aggression, especially from 1937, and in Korea, more decidedly after the “kominka” policy under its colonial rule from the early 1930s. Second, Japanese recognized some fault in causing suffering also for the United States and other allies, particularly through maltreatment of prisoners of war in what many of them have considered a war among imperialist powers, and were resigned to their defeat. Third, in the case of the Soviet Union, however, they viewed their country as a victim, for which Japan needed some vindication after the war. This differentiation lies at the heart of Japanese thinking about the territorial dispute, which became the symbol of perceived victimization.

Cold War Emergence of the Territorial Problem

In the process of occupation, Japan came to terms with the existing postwar reality. It signed the San Francisco Peace Treaty in 1951. According to Article 2 (c), “Japan renounced all rights, title and claim to the Kurile islands.” From the point of view of the principle of territorial non-aggrandisement, the Kurile Islands that Japan gained in exchange for the whole of Sakhalin in 1875 might well not have been considered a product of aggrandisement, but that renunciation was a direct reflection of the commitment that Roosevelt had given to Stalin at Yalta. Thus, the acceptance of postwar reality extended also to Japan’s relations with the Soviet Union. By abstaining from signing the San Francisco Peace Treaty, however, the Soviet Union failed to gain all the benefits the treaty offered, including “the Kurile Islands” as it might have wanted to define them. The resolution of all issues related to the conclusion of a peace treaty was left to future bilateral negotiations between Tokyo and Moscow.

When the negotiations to conclude a peace treaty took place in 1955-1956 all issues were resolved except for the territorial issue, and the First Secretary of the CPSU, Nikita Khrushchev, proposed to resolve this by transferring Habomai and Shikotan to Japan after the conclusion of a peace treaty. The Japanese side responded that the proposal was unacceptable, and Kunashiri and Etorofu have to be returned as well. Why could Japan not accept Khrushchev’s proposal? After all, there were many statements made in connection with the San Francisco Peace Treaty that Etorofu and Kunashiri remain within the “Kurile Islands” that Japan had renounced. The failure of the Soviet Union to sign in San Francisco had relieved Japan of the need to take that position.

A sense of justice that all four islands have belonged to Japan since 1855 (when borders were first established), Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) politics that made concessions difficult, and the Cold War reality that the United States did not want to have the thorny issue between Japan and the Soviet Union resolved with only the two smaller islands returned, are often cited as reasons for Japan’s refusal to accept the Soviet compromise proposal. At any rate, the negotiations failed, and Clause 9 of the Joint Declaration that was adopted, prescribed that negotiations should continue and Habomai and Shikotan should be transferred to Japan after the conclusion of a peace treaty. This led to recurrent Japanese efforts to find a way to regain the four islands.

During the Cold War, in 1960, when Japan concluded a new security treaty with the United States, the Soviet Union saw it as a dangerous action against its interests and declared that unless foreign troops were withdrawn from Japan they would not be ready to transfer Habomai and Shikotan. That naturally angered Japan. In the period of detente, the two sides explored a way out that would improve relations and in October 1973, in Moscow, Tanaka Kakuei and Leonid Brezhnev issued a Joint Communique, agreeing to resolve “unresolved issues from World War II.” Brezhnev orally confirmed to Tanaka that this included the four islands issue. Economic relations were advancing, including substantial Japanese investment in the development of Siberian resources. However, from the latter part of the 1970s, which is often referred to as “the second cold war,” political relations between Japan and the Soviet Union deteriorated. From 1978, when Foreign Minister Sonoda Sunao visited Moscow, Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko stated that the territorial issue does not exist, and if Japan raises this non-existent issue he would not visit Japan. After that, there were no ministerial visits for eight years. In this period Japanese had no reason to consider the possibility of a compromise, while a growing sense of Japan’s rising stature amid Soviet stagnation and even isolation led many to rally behind the cause of these islands as a symbol of normalizing not only a troubled relationship but also a sense that Japan had emerged from its postwar hiatus.

Negotiations in 1985-2001: Three Agreements and Four Concessionary Proposals

First agreement: Gorbachev’s visit in April 1991
In March 1985, General Secretary Konstantin Chernenko died and Mikhail Gorbachev was elected to replace him. Gorbachev replaced Gromyko with Shevardnadze, who made his first trip to Japan in January 1986. Although maintaining the position that the territorial issue does not exist, Shevardnadze agreed that he was prepared to listen to any views expressed by Japan. Japanese felt a fresh breeze in Japan-Soviet relations. The two sides opened a peace treaty working group in December 1988 and had thorough exchanges, paving the way for Gorbachev’s visit to Japan in April 1991.

The logic of the negotiations was simple and was largely shared by the two sides. The Japanese side thought that the resolution of the four islands issue was the ultimate objective, but awaiting Gorbachev’s visit to Japan, the Japanese government formulated two interim objectives: to get Gorbachev to recognize in writing the existence of the issue, including Kunashiri and Etorofu; and to get Gorbachev to confirm the validity of the 1956 Joint Declaration, in which the Soviet side agreed to transfer Habomai and Shikotan to Japan after the conclusion of a peace treaty. The Russian Foreign Ministry also prepared two options for Gorbachev’s consideration: either to acknowledge the four islands as the object of negotiations or to confirm the obligation based on the 1956 Joint Declaration, and move to the next stage. Gorbachev adopted the first option.

Prime Minister Kaifu Toshiki tried hard to convince Gorbachev to acknowledge the 1956 Joint Declaration, but his efforts failed. Japan, therefore, succeeded in its first objective but failed in the second. Gorbachev’s domestic position was by then substantially weakened by mounting difficulties in economic reform, ethnic troubles, and rising criticism from the political right and radical reformers. Thus, he could not take a difficult decision, which would be seen as cutting off Russians who were living on Shikotan. Gorbachev’s delay in coming to Tokyo proved very costly for the prospect of sharply improving bilateral relations.1 Nevertheless, it succeeded in creating the basis for the next steps in developing the relationship. Gorbachev wrote, “The ice has been broken.”2

Japan’s first concessionary proposal in October 1991
The process of territorial negotiations that resulted in three agreements under three Soviet/Russian presidents is best understood by analyzing concessionary proposals from both sides in these years. The Japanese side made two concessionary proposals, trying to realize its “four islands in a bunch” solution, and the Russian side made two essential proposals precisely avoiding the “four islands in a bunch” solution.

After the failure of a coup in August 1991 the entire structure of the Soviet Union began to disintegrate rapidly. The new Russian leadership of President Boris Yeltsin, Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev, and Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs Georgii Kunadze began to send messages to Tokyo that they were willing to substantially improve relations. Responding to this historic opportunity, a Japanese Foreign Ministry team worked enthusiastically and signalled their willingness to negotiate seriously with Russia, drawing on a new concept of the relationship announced by Foreign Minister Nakayama Taro in September at the United Nations;3 on US$2.5 billion of economic assistance pledged in early October; and on a concessionary proposal that “Japan was prepared to deal flexibly with the timing, conditions and modality of the transfer of the islands, on the condition that Japan’s sovereignty over the four islands was confirmed.” The proposal was conveyed to Gorbachev and Yeltsin by Nakayama in his visit to Moscow in the middle of October.

Russia’s first “non-existent” concessionary proposal in March 1992
These Japanese proposals were reciprocated by the Russian side in March 1992. After the establishment of the Russian Federation in his visit in March 1992, Kozyrev made a confidential proposal incorporating substantial concessions. For many years its contents were not disclosed, but in December 2012 Kunadze told Hokkaido shimbun its contents. It did not coincide exactly with the minutes left by the Japanese participants at that meeting, which were reported as: Russia would conclude an agreement to transfer Habomai-Shikotan before the conclusion of a peace treaty, and further negotiations would be conducted to resolve the fate of Kunashiri and Etorofu, which would result in a peace treaty to resolve the status of the four islands.4

Why did the Japanese government not accept this proposal? It might have thought that the proposal ran the risk of damaging Japan’s traditional position of returning “the four islands in a bunch.” It might have failed to recognize that negotiations were taking place at an unprecedented historical juncture, when Russian power was at its nadir, whereas Japan’s international standing was at its height through its bubble economy. Or possibly it could not resist the temptation of “asking for too much” at a time when the negotiations were advancing favorably. Finally, there might not have been sufficient trust between negotiators from the two sides.5 This failure to grasp the proposal resulted in the catastrophic, sudden cancelation of Yeltsin’s visit in September.

Second agreement: Yeltsin’s Tokyo Declaration in October 1993
After the cancelation of Yeltsin’s visit the relationship went through a tough period. Despite this difficulty, Japan sided with other G-7 countries in April 1993 to commit another US$1.82 billion in economic assistance and in July hosted the G-7 summit with Yeltsin as its guest member. Yeltsin’s bilateral visit to Tokyo took place in the wake of a bloody, domestic battle, from which he emerged the winner, and the Tokyo Declaration, which was adopted on October 13, basically followed the logic that had led to the visit of Gorbachev to Japan two and a half years earlier. It again had two pillars. First, it confirmed what Gorbachev-Kaifu had already agreed was at stake, i.e., the question of to whom the four islands belonged, but it also added three new principles for the negotiations: historical and legal facts; the documents to which the two sides had already agreed; and the principle of law and justice. The Japanese side welcomed these new principles, but clearly their application would not automatically lead to the conclusion that the four islands belonged to Japan.

The second pillar was related to the 1956 Joint Declaration. It was agreed in the Tokyo Declaration that “all treaties and international agreements between the Soviet Union and Japan would be applied between the Russian Federation and Japan.” However, when requested by Prime Minister Hosokawa not to contradict him at the press conference, when he would state that there was no doubt that the 1956 Joint Declaration was included in “all treaties and international agreements” Yeltsin got very angry, replying that “I will only say what we have agreed today.” In reality, at the press conference, he conceded that the 1956 Declaration was included in the “international agreements,”6 Yet, the fact that nothing concrete was written in the Tokyo Declaration and that Yeltsin did not say anything affirmative during his official negotiations with Hosokawa left some ambiguity regarding the validity of the 1956 Joint Declaration. At any rate, relations were brought back roughly to the stage where they had been in the preparatory stage, awaiting Yeltsin’s visit to Tokyo in 1992.

Japan’s second concessionary proposal: Kawana in April 1998
The Tokyo Declaration was followed by a lull of several years in the negotiations, but the relationship warmed in Yeltsin’s second term as Prime Minister Hashimoto Ryutaro saw a strategic opportunity in the age of a rising China. The two leaders’ active dialogue began from the spring of 1997 when Yeltsin resumed his active duties and culminated at their informal “no-necktie” meeting at Krasnoyarsk in November 1997. Hashimoto proposed a broad range of cooperation on economic matters, called the “Hashimoto-Yeltsin Plan,” and Yeltsin responded by proposing to conclude a peace treaty by 2000, implying that the islands issue would be resolved.

Given Yeltsin’s declared intention, Hashimoto and his team made careful preparations for the next “no-necktie” meeting at Kawana on April 18-19, 1998, including inviting Russia to the APEC meeting of 1998, signing a fishery agreement around the four islands, and announcing a US$1.5 billion non-project loan. Finally at Kawana, a supposedly confidential proposal was made by Hashimoto to Yeltsin on the territorial problem, namely to demarcate the border between Etorofu and Uruppu, but with “Japan accepting Russian administration for the time being.”7 Yeltsin showed keen interest in this proposal, but his advisors strongly discouraged him from jumping at it. Soon, Russia was struck by a financial crisis, Yeltsin’s health deteriorated, and Hashimoto had to leave office in July because of the LDP’s defeat in the Upper House elections.

Russia’s second concessionary proposal: Obuchi’s visit in November 1998
The Russian financial crisis began to stabilize in September, when Yevgeny Primakov, then Minister for Foreign Affairs, was chosen to be prime minister as Yeltsin’s health continued to decline. Obuchi Keizo, who replaced Hashimoto, visited Moscow in November, and the Russian side made a compromise proposal, namely to conclude two treaties, the first of which would introduce some kind of joint governance on the islands and a second, at a later stage, which would resolve the issue of border demarcation. Japan, however, did not agree to this proposal as the basis for further negotiations.

In 1999, apart from a ten-minute meeting at the fringe of the G-8 summit, no meetings took place between the two leaders. On December 31, 1999, Yeltsin announced his resignation, designated Vladimir Putin as acting-president, and declared that the presidential election would take place in March.

Third agreement: Putin’s first year leading to Irkutsk in March 2001
After Mori Yoshiro replaced Obuchi in 2000, five meetings with Putin led to their final meeting on March 25, 2001, in Irkutsk, where they adopted a joint communique, in which they agreed that “the 1956 Joint Declaration is a basic legal document that established the starting point in the negotiation process” and that the purpose of the peace treaty negotiations was to resolve “the issue of where the islands of Etorofu, Kunashiri, Shikotan and Habomai belong on the basis of the 1993 Tokyo Declaration.” For the first time in the negotiations the Soviet/Russian side proclaimed the validity of the 1956 Joint Declaration to guide the fate of Habomai and Shikotan, and the Tokyo Declaration to pave the way to some kind of agreement on Kunashiri and Etorofu. The Irkutsk Declaration serves as the last signed document, which established a foundation for any further sovereignty negotiations over the four islands.

Twelve Years from Irkutsk to the Present

The lost window of opportunity, 2001- 2006

Unfortunately, all these achievements and efforts were reduced practically to naught after Prime Minister Koizumi Junichiro and Foreign Minister Tanaka Makiko assumed their posts on April 26, 2001. On Russia, Tanaka’s thinking was fixated on the idea of what her father, Tanaka Kakuei, did in negotiating with Brezhnev, disregarding all progress achieved since 1973. Her presence as foreign minister also devolved into political turmoil with Suzuki Muneo, an LDP politician who had accumulated strong influence within the Foreign Ministry, including in the area of proactive policy toward Russia. But in the course of 2001, the line advanced by Mori still had some life, and at the Shanghai APEC meeting in October 2001, Koizumi proposed to go back to the parallel talks approach, and it was reported that Putin agreed.

In early 2002 the Tanaka-Suzuki rivalry intensified in relation to Japan’s assistance to Afghanistan. This turmoil resulted in Koizumi’s decision to relieve Tanaka of her post, which invited a backlash among top Foreign Ministry officials, who feared Suzuki’s excessive power on foreign policy matters and decided to cut down his influence, including on Russian policy. Suzuki supported a flexible and pro-active Russia policy, together with two key officials, the author of this article and Sato Masaru, an influential specialist on Russian affairs. By the summer of 2002, I was relieved of my duties at the ministry and Sato and Suzuki were arrested on charges involving the misuse of money. The Irkutsk policy collapsed within the Foreign Ministry. When Koizumi visited Russia in 2003 agreeing to a wide-ranging action plan, he did not add anything on the substance of sovereignty negotiations. Putin’s visit in 2005 came at a nadir in relations, when no agreement could be pursued about how to advance territorial negotiations.

Once again breaking the ice, 2006-2009
After Abe Shinzo’s succession to power in September 2006, the overall mood began to warm up. As the son of Abe Shintaro, the foreign minister and counterpart of Shevardnadze in the first half of 1986 who then made significant contributions as secretary-general of the LDP in 1990, Abe from the time of his campaign to become prime minister did not hide his father’s special relations with Russia and his intention to realize his father’s unfulfilled dream.8 In December 2006, Aso Taro, foreign minister under Abe, astonished listeners at a parliamentary debate, by saying, “It is difficult to get an agreement if one is stuck with such debates, two or four. Both sides have to be realistic.” This came in the context of discussing a possible solution by “dividing the territorial space, half and half.9 For the first time in Japan’s negotiating position, acceptance of “something less than four” seems to have emerged. In June 2007 at the G-8 Summit, Abe further proposed to Putin a new “Initiative for the Strengthening of Japan-Russia cooperation in the Far East Russia and Eastern Siberia,” and Putin responded positively.

After Abe’s abrupt retirement and then Putin’s stepping down to let Dmitry Medvedev run for president while he shifted to the post of prime minister largely responsible for economic policy, at the 2008 Toyako G-8 summit Medvedev called for “seeking a mutually acceptable solution” and stated, “the resolution of the territorial problem could greatly enhance bilateral relations.”10 This positive mood culminated when Aso became prime minister in September 2008. In February 2009, Aso met with Medvedev in Sakhalin, and the two leaders agreed to pursue their work based on “new, original, and unorthodox approaches.”11 Furthermore, when Putin met with Aso in Japan on May 12, 2009, he said, “all options shall be discussed during the G-8 Summit at L’Aquilla Italy” and when asked at the press conference, responded that “they included the idea of dividing the territorial space in half.” Despite this extraordinarily positive public statement by Putin, Aso said on May 12, 2009, at a parliamentary debate, probably out of unintentional carelessness, that “these territories are unlawfully occupied by the Russians.” This legal position was taken as a personal insult by Medvedev to bully Russia when it was preparing a substantial compromise. The summit was a dud.

There is evidence that both sides tried to maintain some momentum for another two months after Hatoyama Yukio of the Japan Democratic Party (JDP) assumed power in September 2009. Hatoyama, the grandson of Hatoyama Ichiro who had negotiated the 1956 Joint Declaration, naturally expressed a desire to find a breakthrough on the Northern Territories issue. In fact, his meetings with Medvedev in September in New York and in November at Singapore proceeded very smoothly.

The lost window of opportunity, 2009-2011
Once again, however, on November 24, 2009, in responding by cabinet decision to the “shitsumon shuisho” (official questions to the government raised by parliamentarians), in this case by Suzuki Muneo, the Hatoyama cabinet used the words “unlawful occupation.” As expected, the Kremlin reacted fiercely. After Russians felt additional irritations, Foreign Minister Lavrov in a Khabarovsk speech, “Far Eastern Social and Economic Development and Cooperation with Regional Countries” on July 2, 2010 at which Medvedev was present, cited the names of practically all of the countries in the Asia-Pacific region as the objects of cooperation, but neglected to mention Japan. Curiously enough, Japanese media and the government practically ignored this speech.

In these circumstances, Medvedev’s visit to Kunashiri in November 2010, the first ever by a top Russian leader, may have been intended as a “wake-up call.” If so, it succeeded, at least partially. Starting with former residents of the islands, the media were filled with voices of indignation. What was ignored in July was being noticed in November.

Something else was noticed in Japan too. In August 2006, the Russian government had established “the Kurile Development Program,” in the amount of 50.8 billion yen (converted from roubles at a rate of 1R=2.82Y) from 2007 until 2015. The new program encompassed infrastructure, communications networking, industrial development, tourism, education, etc. The islands were rapidly becoming Russified with no end in sight.

The Second Putin Period: Another window of opportunity, 2011-2013
The situation changed abruptly after September 24, 2011, when Putin became the “United Russia” candidate for president. After the 3/11 tsunami and earthquake, the Russian approach toward Japan had already become considerate. Particularly from the end of September, the broadcasts to Japan of the “Voice of Russia,” a semi-official multi-language radio station, portrayed Russian officials’ stance in a warm manner.12 This culminated on March 1, 2012, in Putin’s interview with correspondents of the G-8 countries, in which he asserted that if he is elected president, he would like Japan and Russia to enter into a close economic partnership as well as to resolve the territorial issue by achieving a “hikiwake” (a judo term for a draw) solution.

Japan seemed to have precedence in the initial months after Putin’s re-election. Why? First, Japan could become a large-scale energy consumer, allowing Russia to diversify its markets in an eastern direction, as Putin was advocating. In addition, Japan could also become a major supplier of technology and investment to develop a value-added economy that is badly needed in Russia. Moreover, precisely because Japan is the only country with which Russia has no agreed border, solving the demarcation problem and gaining a new partner would strengthen Russia’s geopolitical position in the Asia-Pacific region.

Basically, nothing happened on the Japanese side until the end of April 2013, when newly-elected Prime Minister Abe made his official visit to Moscow. The positive outcome of that visit allowed observers to conclude that a new window of opportunity seems to be open. However, if Japan fails to grasp it, it could, arguably, be the last chance in the foreseeable future, especially taking into account that Japan’s power is declining and the four islands are undergoing constant Russification.


Paralleled with the process of territorial negotiations, the two sides have explored a more holistic approach to relations. Under Gorbachev, it started with the concept of “balanced equilibrium” in 1989 and a series of relatively small agreements were concluded in 1991. Under Yeltsin, economic assistance toward reforming Russia began with US$2.5 billion of project assistance in 1991, another US$1.83 billion in 1993, and an additional US$1.5 billion of non-project loans in 1998. Security cooperation saw its breakthrough in 1996 with a ministerial visit and mutual naval vessel port visits. Japan showed leadership in 1997 in accepting Russia into APEC from 1998.

This evaluation may not be fully supported by the Russian side. In fact, former ambassador to Japan Alexander Panov was constantly critical of a lack of initiative on the Japanese side to strengthen relations in areas other than the territorial issue. For him, Japan’s slowness in creating attractive economic projects was one reason for repeated failure to achieve a breakthrough. In the concluding part of his memoir covering his period as ambassador to Japan, from 1996-2003, Panov stated, “I expect that the locomotive called ‘economic cooperation’ would put the train called ‘Russo-Japanese relations’ on the right track and gradually succeed in speeding up that train.”13

Reviewing the ups and downs in efforts to resolve the territorial dispute, I have shown that there were multiple windows of opportunity, and now one more has opened. While this is mostly a record of failure, it is also a record of possibilities, which provide a basis for optimism. Discussing Abe and Putin’s personal interest in reaching a breakthrough, I have suggested that their interest is much stronger than many realize. The economic case for improved relations starts with a large boost in energy supplies to a Japan that is struggling after the closure of nuclear power plants following the 3/11 disaster. In the coming Topics of the Month, I will elaborate on these points, while I consider further whether Japan is ready to abandon “four islands in a batch” and Russia is prepared to consider a formula beyond the return of the two small islands.

1. Togo Kazuhiko, Hoppo ryodo kosho hiroku: ushinawareta gotabi no kikai (Tokyo: Shinchosha, 2011), 492.

2. Mikhail Gorbachev, Gorubachevu kaisoroku II (Tokyo: Shinchosha, 1996), 329.

3. The five principles were: to support reform in the Soviet Union; to expand substantially cooperation with the Russian Federation; to cooperate in accepting the Soviet Union in the Asia-Pacific region; to cooperate in accepting the Soviet Union into the IMF and World Bank; and to resolve the territorial problem based on the principle of law and justice. See Togo Kazuhiko, Hoppo ryodo kosho hiroku, 208.

4. For the main contents of the Russian proposal see Sankei shimbun, January 8, 2013.

5. Togo Kazuhiko, Hoppo ryodo kosho hiroku, 164-173.

6. Tamba Minoru, Nichiro gaiko hiwa (Tokyo: Chuo koron, 2004), 211-212.

7. Asahi shimbun, January 5, 2005, carried this news, as stated by Yachi Shotaro, who had just assumed the post of vice minister for foreign affairs.

8. Abe Shinzo, Utsukushii kuni e (Tokyo: Bungei shunju, 2006), 34-37.

9. Sankei shimbun, December 15, 2012.

10. Togo Kazuhiko, Hoppo ryodo kosho hiroku, 5-6.

11. Ibid., 5.

12. Togo Kazuhiko, “Roshia no kokusai senryaku to Nichiro kankei,” Yurashia kenkyu, no. 47 (2012), 16.

13. Alexander Panov, Kumori nochi hare (Tokyo: NHK shuppan, 2004), 227.