Kuril Islands Dispute Heats Up

President Dmitry Medvedev’s decision to visit Kunashir Island, the closest of the disputed Southern Kuril Islands to Japan, has caused a significant deterioration in relations between the two countries, coming only shortly after the dispute with the Chinese which led to a suspension of rare earth metals exports.  The message to Japan and others in the Asian sphere seems clear:  the rules of the game are changing.

From Fred Weir in Christian Science Monitor:

Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan told parliament Monday that Mr. Medvedev’s decision to become the first Soviet or Russian leader to set foot on land Japan regards as its own was “extremely regrettable.” Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara said the visit “hurts our national sentiment,” and called in the Russian ambassador to Tokyo to deliver an official note of protest.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov slammed back, telling journalists that the Japanese reaction to Medvedev’s visit was “unacceptable,” adding, “this is our land and the Russian president visited Russian land. It’s an entirely domestic matter.” (…)

“Medvedev wants to show the people of Siberia and the far east thathe cares about them, and aims to develop these lands,” says YevgenyBazhanov, vice rector of the Foreign Ministry’s Diplomatic Academy inMoscow, which trains Russian diplomats.

“But it’s also a signalto the Japanese that this is our land, and if they want to discuss that,they need to sit down at the table and talk with us,” he says. “Therehave been no negotiations. The Japanese behave as though they won WorldWar II, and that’s not the way to go about it.”