Kuril Islands to Remain Russian with Chinese and South Korean Support

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May 18 – Living standards on the Kuril Islands of Russia’s Far East are extremely low, Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov reported as saying after his controversial visit to an island chain which is at the center of a territorial dispute between Russia and Japan. Analysts say that the socio-economic situation on the Kuril Islands has remained low for decades, but it was never an argument for Russians to give them back to Japan.

“This is my third visit to the Southern Kurils. I like the local nature very much, but I strongly disliked the socioeconomic conditions and living standards on the islands from the very start. In fact, there are no living standards here at all,” Ivanov said.

Earlier, the deputy prime minister told reporters that when he visited the Kurils in 2005 he was shocked by the lack of infrastructure and thus became one of the initiators of the federal program on development of the southern Kurils.

The delegation, which also included four ministers – Igor Levitin (Transport), Elvira Nabiullina (Economic Development), Yuri Trutnev (Natural Resources) and Viktor Basargin (Regional Development), and Governor of the Sakhalin Region Alexander Khoroshavin, visited Etorofu and Kunashiri islands of the Kuril archipelago on Sunday as part of a working tour around Russia’s Far East.

According to the official statement, the purpose of the visit was “to survey the progress of local infrastructure development and to check the fulfillment of the federal program.” But the Japanese government said it considers the visit as “unacceptable and regretful.”

The high-ranking delegation’s visit resulted in an announcement by the federal government intending to assign US$570 million in additional funds for the development of the Kuril Islands.

“It is necessary to develop geothermal power plants and to build more power plants here. We cannot use diesel fuel and coal forever,” Sergei Ivanov said.

Located between Japan’s northern Hokkaido Island and Russia’s far-eastern Kamchatka Peninsula, the controversial islands are called Southern Kurils by the Russians while the Japanese refer to them as the Northern Territories. The Kuril Islands, with a total land area of about 6,000 square miles, were annexed by the Soviet Union at the end of World War II.

The territorial dispute has remained a constant irritant in ties between Tokyo and Moscow for several decades now. Prior to the region coming under Russian control, there were 17,291 Japanese islanders there.

Also prior to the Russian annexation, road networks and post offices were established on Kunashiri and Etorofu. Each village of the Northern territory had a district forestry system, a marine product examination center, salmon hatchery, post office, police station, elementary school, Shinto temple, and other public facilities.

The current total population is about 19,000 people (ethnic Russians, Ukrainians, Belarusians, Tatars, Nivkhs, Oroch). About half of the inhabitants live below the poverty line and fishing is the primary occupation.

Meanwhile, the South Kuril Islands are rich in natural resources, but Moscow does not seem to have a strong enough will to develop them by its own means due to its traditional focus on the European part of the country and on the capital city in particular.

Some 90 percent of all foreign and domestic investment is localized in Moscow, the Russian daily Vedomosti reported last week.

Russia not only had many senior officials visit the islands recently, but also invited East Asian countries such as China and South Korea to participate in the development of the islands.

“China’s participation in the development of the South Kuril Islands is the logical continuation and development of regional economic cooperation between China and Russian Far East,” opinion.globaltimes.cn says.

Analysts believe that high-ranking delegation’s visit is a move designed to emphasize that for the South Kuril Islands, Russia’s position had not changed ownership of the territory.