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A soldier guards the Kuril Islands, which have been occupied by Russia since 1945.
(Yuri Maltsev / Reuters / Corbis)

An End to World War II?

Sixty-seven years after the fighting stopped, Russia and Japan are trying to negotiate a formal peace treaty

By Tyrus Cukavac | May 7 , 2013
<p>PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe meet to talk about a possible peace treaty. (Kirill Kudryavtsev / Reuters) </p><p> MAP: Japan claims it is the rightful owner of the four southernmost islands. (Jim McMahon)</p>

PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe meet to talk about a possible peace treaty. (Kirill Kudryavtsev / Reuters)

MAP: Japan claims it is the rightful owner of the four southernmost islands. (Jim McMahon)

Last week, Shinzo Abe, the Prime Minister of Japan, met with Vladimir Putin, Russia’s President. The topic? How to end World War II.

But didn’t that war end decades ago? Yes—67 years ago to be precise. But these two countries, enemies during the war, never signed a peace treaty, or official agreement. And they still don’t see eye to eye on a few issues.

During World War II, the Allied powers fought the Axis powers. The Allied Powers were led by the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union—which, before it broke up in 1991, included Russia. The Axis powers were led by Germany, Japan, and Italy. The Allies won the war and, for the most part, all the participants declared peace.

Russia and Japan have not actively fought since the end of the war. But they haven’t been friendly toward each other either. Last week’s meeting was the first time the top leaders of the two countries met in person for many years.

WHO OWNS THESE ISLANDS?

Japan and Russia both want to move on from the dispute. But neither country will sign a peace treaty until they agree on who rightfully owns a group of islands called the South Kuril Islands.

The Kuril Islands are located in the Pacific Ocean and are made up of roughly 56 islands. Russia claims ownership of all of them, but Japan says that it is the rightful owner of the four southernmost islands.

Before World War II, Japan owned most of the Kuril Islands. But the country lost them to Russia during the war. Most of the people now living there are of Russian descent.

The islands in question are tiny, and not many people live there. But Russia and Japan have strong opinions about ownership. Solving this problem may continue to take time. Abe says, “There’s no magic wand to resolve [the conflict] in a breath.”

AN ASIAN ALLIANCE?

Japan and Russia have an important relationship. Japan depends on natural gas from Russia for energy. And Russia wants to develop stronger business ties with Japan to help build up Russian industries.

At the recent meeting, Abe and Putin didn’t arrive at any definite agreements. But they did agree to engage in more diplomacy, or official negotiations between countries. Both leaders asked their foreign ministers to begin working together to improve their relationship.

“I feel that we have established personal and trusting relations,” Abe said after the meeting. “We came to the shared opinion that we should intensify contacts between our two countries’ leaders in the future.”

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