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EDITORIAL | Japan Must Tell World Russia is Being Unjust on the Northern Territories

It is time for a new tactic based on joining forces with Western allies to realize the return of Japan’s Northern Territories from Russia’s unlawful control.



Northern Territories

With the threat of a Russian invasion of Ukraine continuing to linger, Japan marked Northern Territories day on February 7.

We want Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, as the representative of the Japanese people, to strongly express his determination to get the Northern Territories – which are Japanese lands – returned to Japan.

At the same time, we do not want the Kishida administration to pander to the Putin administration, which is becoming increasingly dismissive of Japan.

Japan's Northern Territories in an aerial view from the northern part of Hokkaido.

Russia’s lawless behavior concerning Ukraine has become the subject of international scrutiny. Japan must align with the West on matters such as sanctions against Russia, and also spread the message across the global community that Russia’s stance on the Northern Territories is unjust.

In recent years, the Putin administration has peddled the falsehood that “the Northern Territories became Russian land due to the outcome of World War II,” even denying the existence of a territorial dispute.

When the Russian Constitution was revised in 2020, prohibition of “the ceding of territory to another nation” was added, with strict penalties for anyone attempting to do so. 

At a recent news conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan, Russia’s Ambassador to Japan Mikhail Galuzin focused on negotiations concerning a peace treaty between Japan and Russia, not negotiations on the Northern Territories.

Map showing Japan's three territorial issues, from top: Northern Territories, Takeshima and Senkaku Islands. (Sankei Shimbun)

On Northern Territories Day last year, the Sankei Shimbun stated in an editorial that “surely it is time to pull the plug on trying to negotiate on the Northern Territories with the Putin administration, which continues to make a mockery of Japan.” Our stance on this issue remains the same.

What Japan must do now is join forces with other democracies, and make the Northern Territories issue a global issue.

US Ambassador Rahm Emanuel speaks about Russia's illegal occupation of Japan's Northern Territories on February 7, 2022 (US Embassy, Tokyo official twitter account)


At G7 summits between 1990 and 1992, there were calls for the Soviet Union/Russia to resolve the Northern Territories situation. To follow on from this, it is important that there is widespread support for Japan, and that pressure is placed on Russia.

In 2014, Russia annexed Crimea in Southern Ukraine, and Russia has supported pro-Russian forces in Eastern Ukraine, causing unrest. 

A convoy of Russian armored vehicles moves along a highway in Crimea in buildup of Russian troops near Ukraine. (AP Photo/File)

Since the autumn of 2021, Russia has deployed more than 100,000 troops near the Ukrainian border – and is continuing its military intimidation.

Japan, which has been on the receiving end of a Soviet Union/Russian invasion in the Northern Territories, should express this shared connection with Ukraine, and cooperate with Western nations as they support Ukraine. Japan should also learn from the knowledge of Eastern Europe and the Baltic States, which have historically undergone hardships at the hands of Russia and its predecessor, the Soviet Union.

There will surely be an opportunity for the Northern Territories to be returned to Japan. It is important that Japan steadily lays down the groundwork in the buildup to this opportunity.


(Read the editorial in Japanese at this link.)

Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun

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