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Russians holding protests against possible Kurile handover

The Soviet Slava Class Guided Missile Cruiser MARSHAL USTINOV begins a five-day goodwill visit to Naval Base, Norfolk, Virginia, marking the first time that ships of the Russian Navy visited an American military port. (PH1 Jeff Elliot/Department of Defense)
January 20, 2019

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Russians in Moscow and other cities across the country are participating in protests against the prospect of transferring the disputed Kurile Islands to Japan.

The January 20 protest in Moscow has been sanctioned by the authorities and was organized by a coalition of groups including Left Front, the Party of Action, the Other Russia, Novorossia, and other left-leaning and nationalist organizations.

The Kuril Islands (RFERL Graphics/Released)

Organizers said some 2,000 people showed up for the Moscow protest, while municipal officials put the figure at 500.

“Any mention of handing over the Kuriles…is nothing but an act of treason,” speaker Igor Skurlatov told the crowd.

“Today we give away the Kuriles, tomorrow we give away Crimea,” he added, referring to the Ukrainian region that Russia occupied and annexed in 2014.

Left Front leader Sergei Udaltsov posted photographs from the Moscow protest on Twitter, saying the demonstrators “were actively chanting patriotic slogans.”

In the Far Eastern city of Khabarovsk, about 500 people participated in the demonstration chanting the slogan, “The Kuriles are ours! Down with [President Vladimir] Putin’s government.”

Small demonstrations were reported in the Far Eastern port of Nakhodka and the western exclave of Kaliningrad.

On January 19, about 300 people demonstrated in the city of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, the capital of the Far Eastern island of Sakhalin.

The Soviet Union seized the four southern-most Kurile Islands from Japan in the closing days of World War II. The dispute over them has prevented the two countries from signing a peace treaty formally ending the hostilities.

In November, Putin and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe agreed to accelerate negotiations based on a 1956 Soviet proposal to return the two less populated islands, Shikotan and a group of islets called Habomai.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on January 14 that the two countries still have “substantial disagreements” despite some progress in bringing their positions closer.

Lavrov also warned not to expect progress toward an agreement unless Japan first recognizes Russian sovereignty over the Pacific island chain.