Russia to Japan: It's Time to Admit You Lost World War II

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has criticized Japan for refusing to acknowledge its past as the two nations attempt to settle a 73-year-old territorial dispute.

Japan and Russia never signed a peace treaty at the end of World War II, with Soviet troops left occupying remote islands to the north of the Japanese mainland when the fighting stopped.

The islands are part of a chain known as the Southern Kuriles in Russia and the Northern Territories in Japan. Both countries claim the islands, and the subsequent dispute has long undermined relations between them.

Japan now hopes it can sign a final peace treaty with Russia to end the dispute, but Russia says Tokyo must accept its sovereignty over the islands before talks can begin.

Back in 1956, the Soviet Union had been willing to give up control of two islands—Shikotan and Habomai—in a joint declaration with Japan. Russia is now calling on Japan to accept that document as a basis for future talks.

"These are not pre-conditions, it's just an effort to understand why Japan is the only country in the world which cannot say: 'I accept the results of World War II in their entirety,'" Lavrov told a news conference, according to Reuters.

Lavrov added that accepting the outcome of the six-year war is "an inevitable and indispensable factor in today's international system," Deutsche Welle reported.

Japan has repeatedly said Russia was aware of its position on the disputed islands. Last week, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the government was working "based on our basic policy that we aim to resolve the issue of the islands and have peace."

Lavrov met with Japanese counterpart Taro Kono on Monday for fresh talks over the sovereignty of the islands. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is scheduled to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin later this month.

Last year, the two leaders agreed to accelerate talks to reach a peace deal. However, nationalists in both countries are pressuring their respective governments not to sign any new agreement. Russian critics say the Kremlin should retain the islands, while their Japanese opponents want Tokyo to reclaim the land.

According to Radio Free Europe, Kremlin foreign policy aide Yury Ushakov told reporters that the talks between Putin and Abe would not be easy. He echoed Lavrov's demand that Japan accept the outcome of the war, and called the disputed islands "our land and nobody intends to give this land away to anyone."

Kuril Islands Russia Japan
Former Russian President—now Prime Minister—Dmitry Medvedev walks near a Soviet-era fortification during his visit to one of the Kuril Islands on November 1, 2010. The islands are part of a chain known as the Southern Kuriles in Russia and the Northern Territories in Japan. Both countries claim the islands, and the subsequent dispute has long undermined relations between them. MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV/AFP/Getty Images
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