Russia and Japan May Finally Stop Fighting World War II

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Jan. 21 2014 11:15 AM

Russia and Japan May Finally Stop Fighting World War II

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Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks in front of a map of islands known as the Northern Territories in Japan and the Southern Kurils in Russia, on Feb. 7, 2007, in Tokyo.

Photo by Junko Kimura/Getty Images

Obviously, many of the ongoing territorial disputes in East Asia are holdovers from the Second World War, but in one corner of the region, the war technically never ended.

Reuters reports that President Vladimir Putin of Russia has accepted an invitation to visit Japan and that the two countries will restart talks on finally signing a peace treaty ending the hostilities of World War II.

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As you might have guessed, the reason the two countries never formally declared peace has to do with an island dispute: the chain northeast of Hokkaido that Russia refers to as the Southern Kurils and Japan calls the Northern Territories. The islands were seized by the Soviet Union just a few days before Japan surrendered in 1945, and Russia maintains control of them.

The two governments have held intermittent talks on the issue over the years, but there have also been flare-ups in tension, particularly visits to the islands by Dmitry Medvedev as president in 2010 and as prime minister in 2012. Russia announced it was boosting military defenses on the islands in 2011.

Of course, this isn’t the only mid-20th-century conflict still on ice in the region. The Korean War never technically ended either.  

Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international affairs and writes the World blog.