Moscow Said Using Polls to Prepare Russians for Giving the Kuriles Back to Japan

Map of Northern Japan, Kurill Islands, Sea of Okhotsk, Portions of Russian Far East

(Paul Goble – Window on Eurasia – Staunton, November 30, 2018)

Seventeen percent of Russians are now ready to support the handing back to Japan of some of the Kurile Islands, up from only four to eight percent a decade or more above. This trend suggests, Yevgeny Rychkov of Nakanune says, “the powers that be using polls to prepare” Russians for such a transfer (nakanune.ru/articles/114648/).

Overwhelming majorities still oppose such a move, the journalist says, but the increase suggests two things. On the one hand, it is a clear indication that the Kremlin if it wants to can create support for such an “unthinkable” action among a population supposedly as committed as Vladimir Putin is never to give back anything that Russia has control of.

And on the other, while the Kuriles are a special case – they are tiny, although strategically important, and a key to a breaking apart of the international coalition against Moscow – they are far from the only case where a different approach by the Kremlin could make the return of territories far less unthinkable than many now believe.

Among the most obvious of these, of course, is returning Crimea to Ukraine from which Putin violently and illegally seized it and Abkhazia and South Ossetia which Putin used military force to detach from the Republic of Georgia. The new Russian polls should encourage those who oppose Putin’s imperialistic acts of aggression.

Of course, as commentator Boris Kagarlitsky says, there are two things to keep in mind: First, Russians are overwhelmingly opposed to giving back land to anyone lest that trigger a process over which they would lose control. And second, the Kremlin will decide what is in its interest rather than what is in the interest of the population on this issue as on all others.

Japan MapIf Russians are against giving back any territory but Putin decides it is in his interest to do so, the commentator says, then Russia will give it back; and if they shift and show a willingness to give back territories belonging to others but the Kremlin leader is opposed, then this won’t happen as long as he is in office.

But at the same time, it certainly appears that Putin wants to generate support for what he may be about to do one way or another and it also appears that the Russian people are not nearly as committed to the existing borders of the Russian Federation as many inside that country and abroad invariably assume.

Map of Northern Japan, Kurill Islands, Sea of Okhotsk, Portions of Russian Far East