Disputed Kuril Islands 'our land': Medvedev

24th December 2010, Comments 0 comments

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Friday said Japan should realise Moscow would not give up disputed Pacific islands, proposing instead to consider creating a free economic zone there.

"All the South Kuril Islands are Russia's territory," Medvedev said in a live end-of-the-year television interview.

"That's our land, we should take all appropriate decisions there, we should rebuild the Kurils, do everything that people live like humans there. I personally promised them this."

Medvedev caused an uproar in November when he became the first Russian leader to visit one of the disputed islands known as Kunashir in Russian and Kunashiri in Japanese.

The visit caused the worst diplomatic crisis in bilateral ties in years and became the subject of talks with Kan last month in Japan.

The row has prevented Russia and Japan from signing a peace treaty to formally end World War II hostilities, impeding the development of ties -- and the islands -- to their full potential.

Home to some 19,000 people, the islands are rich in gold and silver and lie in waters abundant in marine life.

The islands' infrastructure however is crumbling or nearly non-existent and most Russian residents eke out a meager living there.

Medvedev said that Russia and Japan could consider pursuing joint economic projects at the disputed islands, in his most detailed comments yet on his vision for the remote archipelago.

"Nothing brings us closer than joint economic projects."

"We can think about the creation of a single economic zone, a free trade zone, everyone would earn money there, there would be a special micro economic climate there," he said.

"People would come work there, Japanese citizens would come work there, visit historic places, work there. That, I think, is right and that's what I told my Japanese colleague Prime Minister Naoto Kan, inviting him to Russia."

Russian officials have said Medvedev told Kan during the talks in Yokohama that the two countries should focus on economic ties instead but the Kremlin chief never commented on his proposal at length.

Earlier this month Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's influential first deputy in charge of economic affairs, Igor Shuvalov, travelled to the islands on Medvedev's orders, visiting Kunashir and Iturup known in Japan as Etorofu.

The Kurils are a long chain of islands that stretch south of Russia's Kamchatka peninsula. They were seized by the Soviet Union at the close of World War II.

During Friday's interview, Medvedev reiterated that Tokyo would be better off changing its approach to the dispute.

"I think they should somewhat reconsider their perception of Russia and the Kurils themselves," he said.

"We are ready to take into account these or those historic things that were in the Kurils, that's true, we are ready to work with them. But it does not mean we should give up the Kurils as our land. Our partners should understand this firmly."

Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of Russia in Global Affairs, said Japan would unlikely agree to Russia's joint economic development plan because it would mean Tokyo would have to acknowledge Moscow's sovereignty over the islands.

"How can we speak of the joint use of the islands in this case?" he said, noting that Russia put forward similar proposals under late president Boris Yeltsin.

© 2010 AFP

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