Friday, December 17, 2010

The Kuril Islands

I sometimes forget how close Japan is to Russia. The only thing between the island of Hokkaido and the Kamchatka Peninsula is a line of Pacific Islands called the Kuril Islands. If you look at the map they look like stepping stones. This is probably why they have been the object of dispute between the two nations for a very long time.

In 1945, while Americans were settling into their post-war lives, the Soviet Union continued fighting taking the four most northern islands (Iturup, Kunashir, Shikotan and the Habomia rocks) from Japan. We tend to be Euro-centric in our study of world history. We only hear about the land grab that occurred in Eastern Europe, but this is the first time I ever heard of this. Technically, the peace treaty between the two nations was never signed. As part of the Yalta Agreement the USSR was promised the islands south of Kamchatka, but thanks to some ambiguous language and disagreement between some geographers, no one agreed which islands this meant. During the summer of 1945 USSR troops invaded and took the islands. Two years later, all Japanese residents of the island were expelled.

This are is still disputed. When President Medvedev visited the island in November of this year he was met with a slew of protesters. He even posted his pictures on Twitter and he made it clear on who he believe owned the islands here are some of his twitter postings:
  • "It's the president's duty to control the development of all Russian regions, including the remotest ones"
  • "How many beautiful places there are in Russia!"

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