06 August 2015

    Yury Trutnev, Russia’s deputy prime minister, detailed the country’s plan — expected to be finalized by the end of the year — to create a special economic zone on the Kuril Islands, some of which are subject to a territorial dispute with Japan.

    During an Interview with The Nikkei, Trutnev also indicated that he is open to President Vladimir Putin visiting Japan, which bureaucrats from the two countries are discussing. Japan would like the visit to take place by the end of the year.

    Trutnev, one of Putin’s closest aides, is also the presidential plenipotentiary envoy to the Far Eastern Federal District. This means he is responsible for Russia’s Far East, including the four southern Kuril Islands, which Japan refers to as its Northern Territories.

    It was the first independent interview that Trutnev has given to a Japanese news outlet since he was appointed in 2013 to deputy prime minister and presidential plenipotentiary envoy to the Far Eastern Federal District.

    Trutnev said Moscow intends to establish a basic plan on the special economic zone based on ideas suggested by the government of Sakhalin State, to which the Kuril Islands belong. Construction of necessary infrastructure will begin by the end of the year, he said. The plan is expected to promote the islands’ fishery and tourism industries.

    “The main issue will be which businesses can be successfully launched on the Kuril Islands,” the deputy prime minister said.

    Trutnev’s confirmation and the plan itself are seen as part of Moscow’s efforts to reinforce Russia’s effective control of the islands. Russia has occupied the four tiny islands north of Hokkaido since the end of World War II. Japan still considers the islands part of its territory.

    The plan is seen as designed to encourage Tokyo to commit extensive economic cooperation to Russia’s Far Eastern Federal District, excluding the four disputed islets, in exchange for accelerated progress in territorial talks between the two countries. The Putin administration has designated development of the district as a priority.
    It is also likely that the plan is intended to show displeasure at sanctions against Russia, which Tokyo has placed along with Western powers over the Ukraine crisis.

    About Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s plan to attend an event to be held on Etorofu Island, one of the four disputed islets, later this month, reported by Russian newspaper Kommersant, Trutnev only said, “It is his trip and the decision to make it is up to him.”