Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told his New Year news conference on Jan. 16 that it is against Japan's obligations under the United Nations Charter for Tokyo to lay claim to the Northern Territories held by Russia.
The top Russian diplomat criticized Japan's use of the term "Northern Territories" for the four islands off the northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido, which is part of the Kuril Islands under Russian terminology. Lavrov even ventured to say that Japan is "the only country in the world" that does not recognize the results of World War II.
Lavrov based his accusation on Article 107 of the charter. This provision, however, does not acknowledge Russia's sovereignty over the Northern Territories, nor stipulates obligations Japan is required to follow, as a matter of international law.
The article states, "Nothing in the present Charter shall invalidate or preclude action, in relation to any state which during the Second World War has been an enemy of any signatory to the present Charter, taken or authorized as a result of that war by the Governments having responsibility for such action." The purpose of this provision is to exempt the United Nations from shouldering responsibility for any individual conditions of surrender.
Russia insists that the four islands became its territories as a "result of the war." Moscow bases this argument on an agreement reached during the Yalta Conference of February 1945 among the leaders of the U.S., Britain and the Soviet Union, Russia's predecessor state. But this is just a secret agreement about the Soviet Union's entry into the war against Japan following Nazi Germany's surrender, and handover of the Kuril Islands. Japan was not party to the conference, and therefore, under international law, has no obligation to follow its terms. The U.S. later declared the agreement as null and void.
Lavrov apparently brought up his interpretation that Japan is violating the U.N Charter in an attempt to support Moscow's weak footing to argue for the right to control the Northern Territories. Such an effort, however, does not make Russia's argument reasonable.
During World War II, the U.S. and Britain presented the principle of no territorial gains in the Atlantic Charter of 1941 as one of the post-war goals, and the Allied countries, including the Soviet Union, signed up to the accord.
This principle was incorporated in the Cairo Declaration of 1943 in which the U.S., Britain and China set their policy toward Japan. The Allies were consistent in their denial of territorial expansion during World War II.
Nevertheless, the Soviet Union broke the neutrality pact with Japan, invading and occupying the four northern islands in a bid for territorial expansion. This action ran counter to international norms.
Japan and Russia have given importance to "law and justice" in their negotiations for a peace treaty. If Russia continues to make an argument without legal basis, the foundation of the talks will crumble.
Lavrov demanded in his meeting with Foreign Minister Taro Kono that Tokyo acknowledge Russia's sovereignty over the Northern Territories. These negotiations will go nowhere under such a unilateral attitude.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is scheduled to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Jan. 22. They should engage in calm dialogue to search for a solution, not escalate tensions.