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Russia Is Trying to Mend a 60-Year-Old Land Dispute Through Fishing Rights

Something as petty as technically still being at war isn’t stopping the Russian Federation from offering Japan the right to develop fisheries and other forms of aquaculture around the disputed islands.

by Alex Swerdloff
Jan 25 2016, 10:00pm

Photo via Flickr user echoforsberg

For something with less land mass than the state of Connecticut, the Kuril Islands have engendered more than their share of conflict. Hell, it's thanks to the Kuril Islands and their debated ownership that Russia and Japan technically never even signed a peace treaty to end their World War II clash.

For those of you who might not be up on their Eastern geo-politics, the Kuril Islands are a series of 56 tiny islands situated between Hokkaido and Kamchatka. Although Japan's 1951 signing of the San Francisco Peace Treaty abdicated ownership of the Kuril Islands, it never actually acknowledged the Soviet Union's sovereignty over them. It's also worth mentioning that the Soviet Union never signed the San Francisco Peace Treaty itself, compounding the complexity of an already dizzying situation. Jump forward some 64 years and the conflict regarding sovereignty is still going strong.

All that being said, something as petty as technically still being at war isn't stopping the Russian Federation from offering Japan the right to develop fisheries and other forms of aquaculture around the disputed islands. And the island nation had better decide quickly, Russia says, because it will be turning to other foreign investors with the same offer soon. Yuri Trutnev, Putin's envoy for Russia's Far Eastern region, explained that Russia's somewhat baffling offer was part of a greater plan to create infrastructure and develop the resource-rich territory.

READ MORE: Russia's Food Sanctions Have Escalated into Mass Cheese-Burning

Trutnev went on to say that a similar offer relating to farmland—presumably for another portion of land in Russia's far eastern region—was already in the works with China.

Russia is the biggest country in the world by territory and has one of the world's longest coastlines. Nevertheless, Trutnev says Russia is responsible for only 2 percent of global aquacultural practices like fishing. And evidently, it wants to maximize profits coming out of these obscure islands located seven time zones away from Moscow.

Russia's plan to turn its eastern territories into a foreign agricultural hub seems to line up with Putin's claim that Russia could become and is moving towards being the world's largest supplier of ecologically clean and high-quality organic food. This all might seem like a bit of a pipe dream considering Russia's current relationship with the Western world, but it doesn't change the fact that Russia has an abundance of untapped, resource-laden land and has banned the use of GMOs.

READ MORE: Russia Wants to Be the GMO-Free Food Capital of the World

It seems highly unlikely that Japan will take Russia up on its offer, effectively invalidating its claim to the disputed islands. Not to mention, there are plenty of detractors of the plan in Russia, who feel that it would simply open up the doors to China. While Turnev understands that many fear the plan would basically amount to giving away the area's abundance of natural resources, he feels it to be a necessary move and that, "to live in harmony you need to cooperate. The lack of cooperation only leads to higher risks."

Will Russia's Far Eastern territories soon become Asia's breadbasket? It seems like that may very well become a reality, with or without Japan and the embattled Kuril Islands.