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Russia Report: May 9, 2005

9 May 2005, Volume 5, Number 18

WORLD WAR II -- 60 YEARS AFTER. As the world commemorates the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe, RFE/RL has published a special series that looks at that conflict's enduring legacies in the RFE/RL broadcast areas. See

By Victor Yasmann

One of the most paradoxical results of World War II is the fact that Russia and Japan still have not signed a peace treaty ending the conflict. That is even more ironic considering that the two countries never engaged in the kind of bloody and devastating warfare that characterized the conflict between the Soviet Union and Germany, with which Russia now enjoys stable, even friendly relations.

The reason for the strained relations between Russia and Japan is the well-known conflict over the four Southern Kurile Islands -- Habomai, Shikotan, Kunashi, and Iturup -- which were occupied by Soviet forces in the closing days of the war. Both countries consider these islands in the Sea of Okhotsk to be their territory. The issue of their status remains a hot-button issue with the publics in both countries.

The four islands were first mentioned in official Russian-Japanese relations in the Semod Treaty, which was signed in February 1855. Under the accord, the Southern Kuriles were declared part of Japan. In May 1875, the two countries signed another treaty that gave Russia control of Sakhalin Island in exchange for Russia renouncing claims to all 18 islands in the Kurile chain. Following the Russo-Japanese War, which ended in a decisive defeat for Russia, the two countries signed the Portsmouth Treaty, in which Russia pledged to renounce forever its claims to the Southern Kuriles. The Japanese, incidentally, have never considered the four islands to be part of the Kurile chain, but instead view them as associated with Japan's Hokkaido Island.

In April 1941, Soviet dictator Josef Stalin negotiated a treaty with imperial Japan on mutual neutrality in the fighting in Asia. That agreement alleviated Moscow's concerns about a possible second front in the Far East in the event of war with Germany. The war broke out when Germany attacked the Soviet Union just two months later. The treaty also untied Japan's hands and in December 1941, a Japanese fleet based near the Kuriles attacked the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, drawing the United States into the war.

At the Yalta conference in February 1945, Stalin agreed that the Soviet Union would join the Allies in the war against Japan in exchange for eventual Soviet control of the southern part of Sakhalin Island and of the Kuriles. During the conference, Stalin did not reassert old claims that the territories belonged to Russia, but spoke of them openly as trophies and as compensation for Russia's humiliating defeat during the Russo-Japanese War.

In his address to the Soviet Union on the day that Japan surrendered, 2 September 1945, Stalin said: "The defeat of Russian forces in 1904 left a painful memory in the conscience of our people and a black stain on [on the reputation of] our country. For 40 years, we, the people of the older generation, have waited for this day, and now this day has come. It means that southern Sakhalin and the Kurile Islands will become part of the Soviet Union."

Until his death in 1953, Stalin stifled any talk of returning the disputed islands to Japan, repeating often that "the Soviet Union is a big country, but we have no extra land." In February 1946, the Soviet Union formally incorporated the southern Kuriles into its national territory. In September 1951, the Soviet Union declined to sign the San Francisco Peace Treaty, which the other Allies signed with Japan. Under that treaty, Japan agreed to renounce its claims to what it considered the Kurile Islands. However, the four disputed islands were not mentioned in the document because, as noted above, Japan believes they belong to the Hokkaido Island group.

However, a new chapter in bilateral relations was opened in October 1956, when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev signed a joint declaration that reestablished diplomatic relations between the two countries and postulated that following the signing of peace treaty, two of the disputed islands -- Shikotan and Habomai -- would be transferred to Japan. But at the peak of the Cold War in January 1960, the Soviet Union backed away from this declaration and said that there were no remaining territorial issues between the two countries.

This remained the status quo until August 1991, when Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev again acknowledged the dispute over the Southern Kuriles and the necessity of resolving it. Russian President Boris Yeltsin visited Japan in October 1993 and in April 1998, speaking on both trips of the possibility of a quick solution "based on historical and legal facts." He predicted that a peace treaty would be completed by 2000.

The latest contretemps surrounding the Kurile question came on 11 November 2004, when Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told NTV that Russia, as the successor to the Soviet Union, recognizes the 1956 agreement and Moscow's obligation to transfer the two islands to Tokyo. "But with this we should put a period to the territorial problem," Lavrov said. The following day, President Vladimir Putin added enigmatically that Russia "is ready to fulfill its obligations, but only to the extent that the other party is also willing to fulfill its obligations," RTR reported. "But, as we all know, we have not yet reached a mutual understanding of what these obligations are," Putin added.

According to Japanese media, Tokyo's position on the disputed islands has remained consistent throughout the entire period. According to the website, Japan considers the islands historically and geographically part of Japan's northern territories, which were occupied by Soviet forces during World War II. Japan does not recognize agreements made at the Yalta Conference, to which it was not a party, and does not believe that agreements adopted by the Allies during the war can be considered part of the legal foundation for a peace treaty.

On 22 February, Japan's parliament adopted a resolution that called on the government to intensify its efforts to return the four islands and "other northern territories" to Japan, reported. Asked what the unnamed "other northern territories" referred to, an unnamed source in the Japanese legislature said the term was adopted in order to reach a consensus among all factions, including the Communists, which are calling for Japanese control over all 18 major Kurile islands.

On 20 April, after a long delay, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi announced that he would attend the commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe in Moscow on 9 May, the Kyodo news agency reported. However, he added that while he was in Moscow, he would raise the unsettled issue of the islands once again.

Clearly, three generations of postwar Japanese have become so committed to the idea that the "occupied northern territories" must be returned that no Japanese government can ignore this sentiment. Russian nationalist author Maksim Kalashnikov described the feelings of Japanese patriots in his 2004 book "The Wrath of Ork": "We should understand the Japanese, who still consider that the Russians betrayed them during World War II. They honestly did not attack us when Hitler's troops were near Moscow, allowing Stalin to redeploy fresh troops from the Far East. And they did not attack us in 1942, when Nazi troops were near the Volga and the Caucasus. Nonetheless, we attacked them in August 1945, we captured their islands and now, having devastated our own land, we are unwilling to return land which is not ours. So what kind of allies can we look like after all that?"

Passions over the issue are equally inflamed on the Russian side, as most polls show that an overwhelming majority of Russian oppose returning any of the islands. During the legislative elections in Sakhalin Oblast in October 2004, a bloc called Our Motherland Sakhalin and the Kuriles, which is affiliated with the nationalist Motherland party, made a strong showing with 19.9 percent of the vote. The pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party came in second with 17.72 percent, while the Communists polled third with 15.87 percent. Like the bloc, both these parties categorically reject all proposals to return the disputed islands to Japan.

Moscow's position regarding the islands is supported by China and South Korea, both of which have their own territorial disputes with Japan. In recent years, Moscow has begun using its energy-export policies to compel China and Japan to compete for closer relations with Russia. The main tool for this strategy was the route of a new strategic oil pipeline from eastern Siberia (Irkutsk Oblast) to the Far East.

Until last year, Moscow seemed to prefer a route from Angarsk to the Chinese city of Datsin. However, following the October 2004 arrest of Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii, who had lobbied this option and who advocated the construction of a private, Yukos-owned pipeline, the Kremlin decided that the pipeline would bypass China and run to the Russian port of Nakhodka, from which most of the oil would be exported to Japan, South Korea, and global markets. Moscow offered China some compensation in the form of increased rail exports.

But in January, a consortium of Chinese banks offered state-owned Rosneft a $6 billion loan to purchase Yukos's main production subsidiary, Yuganskneftegaz. Shortly thereafter, Moscow decided to construct a branch of the pipeline to Datsin, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 26 April and reported on 28 April.

Despite Moscow's decision to build the main pipeline along the route preferred by Tokyo, there seems to be no movement on the issue of the disputed islands, which remain the epicenter of bilateral relations. This problem, shaped by Stalin 60 years ago, seems to remain as intractable as ever.

By Breffni O'Rourke

The figures for Western materiel assistance to the Soviet Union during World War II are staggering. The scale of the delivery is illustrated by the cargo list of a single convoy that left the U.S. western port of Seattle in January 1944, bound for Vladivostok in the Soviet Far East.

Historian Arvo Vecamer writes that the convoy carried 22,000 tons of steel, 4,100 complete trucks or truck chassis, 2,500 tractors or half-track vehicles, and 2,200 aircraft, as well as many smaller items like batteries and ball bearings. Vecamer says that in all, under the Lend-Lease aid program between 1941 and 1946, the Western allies delivered some 350,000 trucks, 78,000 jeeps, and 22,000 aircraft to the USSR. In all, some 10 percent of total Soviet war production.

British military historian Richard Overy notes that Lend-Lease aid covered mostly non-weapon items. That displeased Moscow, but nevertheless it was enormously valuable to the Soviet war effort because it relieved the Soviet economy of the need to manufacture such items.

"What the Western allies supplied was a kind of economic backup to the Soviet Union, which made possible their extraordinary military success, and the extraordinary success of their armaments industry, and this is something which [Soviet leader Josef] Stalin privately admitted during the war as well," Overy said.

And some of the aid went to the front-line anyway. U.S.-built, four-wheel-drive trucks became an important battlefield asset once the German forces were pushed into retreat in 1943.

Using the four-wheel-drive trucks, the Red Army perfected a technique of moving infantry brigades quickly across rough country, with artillery in tow and accompanied by tanks for armored support. By this means, they were able to appear through the forests and decimate retreating German formations, which stayed on the roads.

Soviet forces thus developed their own form of "blitzkrieg," a concept of lightning strikes that had served Germany well in the early years of the war.

The Allied aid was, of course, a supplement to the Soviets' own massive war production. Among other things, Soviet factories were turning out scores of thousands of simple but rugged armaments and war-related items. These included the ubiquitous T-34 tank and GAZ, AMO, and ZIS trucks. The trucks were mostly built with design or engineering help from U.S. companies.

In the absence of a second front on the ground in West Europe, as demanded by Stalin, the Western allies saw their campaign of saturation bombing of German industrial installations and cities as an important way of helping Moscow.

Overy continues: "What the allies offered was another kind of second front, they offered the bombing of Germany, and though that, too, took time to get going, there is no doubt that it diverted a huge amount of military and managerial efforts on the German side, away from what was happening on the Eastern front."

The day and night air raids made uninterrupted production of weapons in normal factories impossible. Production had to be dispersed to small installations in rural areas, or to underground bunkers and road tunnels, or to occupied territories like Czechoslovakia.

Despite the disruption this caused, German armaments minister Albert Speer actually managed to lift production of arms in the supremely difficult years 1944 and 1945. In 1944, Germany produced a total of 40,600 aircraft, a record number.

Among them were the first examples of the world's first jet fighter, the Messerschmidt Me-262. This was a fearsome weapon in that it was heavily armed and almost twice as fast as allied propeller craft.

Irrationally, its employment as a fighter aircraft was delayed for months on Hitler's personal orders. He wanted to preserve it for a "revenge" bombing campaign against Allied cities, which never materialized.

Expert opinion differs on whether the earlier deployment of the Me-262 could have delayed or staved off German defeat. Moscow-based military journalist Pavel Felgenhauer said he believes it could have done so had not the Western bombing been so heavy. "Most likely the Germans could have done as they planned, to produce enough fighters to seriously curtail the Allied bombing campaign," he said.

However, Johannes Steinhoff, a wartime German fighter ace who later became head of the postwar Luftwaffe, noted that machines were only one part of the equation. He says flesh and blood were essential, too; and, by late 1944, the German air force had been bled dry of experienced pilots.

Youngsters arriving for battle normally survived only two or three combat missions, and freshly built fighter planes stayed parked in long rows, with nobody to fly them and no fuel to use anyway.

The most decisive Western help to the Soviet war effort came on 6 June 1944 with the D-Day landings at Normandy in France. The invasion of "fortress Europe" came 2 1/2 years after Stalin had urgently requested the opening of a second front to assist the Red Army.

The Soviets has been fighting since Hitler's invasion of the Soviet Union in summer 1941 -- three long years of bloodshed on an incredible scale.

The Western invasion had been slow in coming. The United States, under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, had been in favor of an invasion since 1942, but British Prime Minister Winston Churchill would not agree to that, saying the Allies were not ready.

A senior historian with the Imperial War Museum in London, James Taylor, commented on Churchill's state of mind: "Churchill was very worried, he was the main figure in delaying the second front; he was particularly worried because he did not feel, he did not want, in fact, to see the slaughter of the First World War repeated."

The terrible years of trench warfare against the Germans in France were still fresh in everyone's memory. On these grounds, said Taylor, Churchill held out for optimum readiness, which was not achieved until early summer of 1944.

The Normandy offensive made the Germans transfer from the eastern front infantry, armor, and aircraft that were badly needed against the Soviets. For instance, when the allies landed unexpectedly at Normandy, the Luftwaffe had only a handful of planes to commit to the fray.

However, the subsequent months, leading up to the last great German offensive, the Battle of the Bulge against U.S. troops in the Ardennes forest, saw a major deployment of forces from east to west, including air power.

When the Battle of the Bulge ended in January 1945, Germany had lost 100,000 men, 800 tanks, and 1,000 planes. Such losses were unsustainable for Germany and, by April, Hitler had gone, killed by his own hand. By May, peace had returned to Europe.

A cold peace perhaps, but that's another story.

By Jean-Christophe Peuch

Klara Baratashvili was not yet born when World War II ended. But this woman in her fifties still vividly remembers what her father, Latif Shah, used to tell his four children about what happened to him and his people on the night of 15 November 1944.

"At 4 a.m., people were aroused from sleep and ordered out in the fields without a single word of explanation," Baratashvili relates. "They remained all night on the threshing floor. Later on, several Stuedebaker trucks drove in and everyone was ordered to board them. People were authorized to take only the bare minimum with them. Before leaving the house my father had grabbed a few books and his personal notes. He had such faith in communism -- he was almost a fanatic -- that he had taken [Josef] Stalin's complete works with him. That was what he valued most."

Yet it was the Soviet leader who, a few weeks earlier, had sealed Latif Shah Baratashvili's fate by ordering the deportation to Uzbekistan of Georgia's entire Meskhetian population.

Except for a brief visit made in 1956, three years after Stalin's death, Latif Shah never saw his native Georgia again. He died in Soviet Azerbaijan in 1984.

Stalin's reasons for deporting more than 100,000 Meskhetians remain unclear. Some historians have suggested he wanted to cleanse southern Georgia of its Muslim elements in anticipation of war with neighboring Turkey. Others say the Soviet leader suspected the Meskhetians -- and other ethnic groups he ordered deported in the preceding months-- of not being subservient enough.

Officially, the Soviet historiography justified the war deportations by alleging the exiled peoples collaborated with the enemy during the German occupation of the Crimean Peninsula and the Caucasus in 1941-42.

An estimated 1.5 million people were sent into forced exile after Soviet troops reasserted control over the areas of the Black and Caspian seas beginning in 1943. In lighting-strike operations performed by Stalin's NKVD secret police, Crimean Tatars, Chechens, Ingush, Karachais, Kalmyks, Balkars, Bulgarians, Greeks, Armenians, Kurds, Hemshin, Meskhetians, and others were deported to Siberia and Central Asia.

Germans, Poles, Latvians, Lithuanians, Estonians, and Finns from western and central Soviet regions were deported at the beginning of the war with Nazi Germany.

Baratashvili remembers her father's account of his first months of exile in Uzbekistan.

"The [1944-45] winter was particularly harsh," Baratashvili says. "Many people died of hunger and cold. Since there were no men to sustain these people, many newborn children died because their mothers did not have milk."

Because nearly all the Soviet male population was serving in the army, the majority of the deportees consisted of women, children, and the elderly. The men were arrested and sent into exile after the demobilization.

Mustafa Cemilev chairs the Qirimtatar Millyi Meclisi, or Crimean Tatar National Parliament. This veteran dissident, who was deported as a child and spent 15 years in Soviet jails for defending the cause of his people, tells RFE/RL that nearly one-half of the Crimean Tatars who were deported in 1944 died, either during their resettlement or in their first two years of exile.

"Some 380,000 Crimean Tatars were deported," Cemilev says. "That does not include some 50,000 [soldiers] who were sent into exile after they returned from the front. Many had died at the front and all those who had survived were deported. But if we take this figure of 380,000 as a basis, we can say that between 150,000 and 170,000 [Crimean Tatars] died [during the first two years of exile]."

Following the 1956 de-Stalinization, most deported peoples were authorized to return to their home regions, only to find out that their property had been given to representatives of other ethnic groups sent to resettle the depopulated areas.

The Soviet leadership had also taken advantage of the massive deportations to redefine the administrative borders of the entire Northern Caucasus region. Although these changes were partially corrected after Stalin's death, they paved the way for the ethnic unrest that accompanied the collapse of the Soviet Union, such at the brief war that pitted Ingush against Ossetians in 1992.

Among those peoples who suffered lasting discrimination long after Stalin's death were the Crimean Tatars and the Meskhetians.

The Meskhetians, who endured yet another exile after the ethnic clashes that rocked Uzbekistan in the late 1980s, are still not allowed to collectively return to Georgia and remain scattered across seven former Soviet republics. Only a few hundred individuals, such as Baratashvili, have returned so far.

Although they were exonerated of all alleged crimes in 1967, the Crimean Tatars were not allowed to return home massively until 1989 -- only to face a number of new hurdles.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Ukraine authorized former collective farm workers to buy land. But this privilege was denied Crimean Tatars who had previously worked in collective farms in Central Asia.

Cemilev says access to land is the biggest problem facing the returnees.

"Although 75 percent of Crimean Tatars leave in rural areas, they have approximately half as much land as the Russian-speaking population," Cemilev says. "This problem is particularly acute in the south as a result of the attempts made by the Soviet regime to bar the Crimean Tatars from returning to these prestigious areas. Before the 1944 deportations, the Crimean Tatars accounted for 70 percent of the population in these regions. Now, they account for less than 1 percent. The lands are being distributed or sold at cut-prices to oligarchs who live either in Kyiv or in Russia. This generates tensions and permanent conflicts."

Some 150,000 Crimean Tatars still live in Central Asia, primarily in Uzbekistan. Lack of money, administrative harassment on the part of Uzbek authorities, and Kyiv's reluctance to issue them Ukrainian passports make it difficult for Crimean Tatars to return home.

In Ukraine itself, the life of Crimean Tatars has seen no real improvement in recent years.

Ukrainian lawmakers voted in 2004 to restore social benefits for Crimean Tatars. But former President Leonid Kuchma vetoed the bill.

Cemilev, who holds a seat in Ukraine's Verkhovna Rada, the national parliament, says President Viktor Yushchenko has vowed to reconsider his predecessor's ban and increase the representation of Crimean Tatars in local self-governments. But these promises have had no effect so far.

In Georgia, the leaders that succeeded former President Eduard Shevardnadze are under strong pressure from the Council of Europe to accelerate steps aimed at paving the way for the Meskhetians' repatriation. But despite repeated pledges, the new government remains as noncommittal on this issue as its predecessor.

Arguing that the presence of an estimated 300,000 displaced persons from the separatist republic of Abkhazia make it difficult for Tbilisi to accept any newcomers, Georgian Foreign Minister Salome Zurabishvili said in April that the Meskhetian issue can be settled only "step by step."

By Claire Bigg

As Russia prepares to commemorate the victory over Nazi Germany in World War II, Russian human rights activists are denouncing what they call an upsurge of racism, xenophobia, and neo-Nazism in the country.

Speaking at a news conference in Moscow on 4 May, the activists called on Russians not to forget that the Soviet Union also repressed, deported, and massacred ethnic minorities.

Alla Gerber, who heads the Holocaust Foundation in Moscow, said that despite the defeat of Nazi Germany, fascism is deeply ingrained in the Russian mindset. Fascism is a broad term used in Russia to describe any xenophobic attitude, including Nazism.

"We have gathered today on the eve of Victory Day because fascism was not defeated at the root, in the conscience of people, because fascism was always associated with the invaders," Gerber said. "Hitler's Germany was fascist, yes, but we haven't done anything, said anything about the country we lived in, and what happened to us, and today we are witnessing the consequences."

At the news conference, the Moscow Bureau for Human Rights released a report on racism, xenophobia, and neo-Nazism in Russia based on the results of recent opinion polls.

According to the report, half of Russians consider that foreigners in Russia have "too much power" and say they are ready to support measures limiting the presence of nationals from former Soviet Central Asian countries.

The reports also showed that one-third of Russians described neo-Nazis as "cleansers of society" while 43 percent of respondents said they were disturbed by the presence of foreign nationals in Russia.

Participants at the conference said xenophobic feelings were exacerbated by the Beslan hostage tragedy in September. That attack, in which more than 330 people were killed, was blamed on militants linked to the Chechen rebel movement.

Meanwhile, reports of attacks on foreigners have multiplied in recent months -- the latest on 2 March, when two Algerian students were beaten up in the Moscow metro. Both suffered minor injuries.

Others, however, have not been so lucky.

Last year in Moscow and St. Petersburg, a Georgian man was stabbed to death, a Vietnamese student was murdered, an Uzbek migrant worker was beaten and stabbed to death, and a 9-year-old Tajik girl was killed in front of her father by a band of teenagers armed with knifes and chains.

In most cases, witnesses described the assailants as "skinheads."

The authorities, however, often file such attacks under "hooliganism," a charge that angers human rights groups.

Aleksandr Brod, the director of Moscow Bureau for Human Rights, denounced what he calls a lack of political will to fight ultranationalists groups in Russia.

"Russia doesn't have any planned government policy to counter racism, xenophobia, and neo-Nazism," Brod said. "Looking at these brown [racist] newspapers, we see that hundreds of books promoting pogroms and Nazism and dozens of videos are being released and actively sent to libraries, schools, and higher-education institutions. But where is the governmental program to issue antifascist films and books?"

Like many human rights advocates, Brod said the Russian government turns a blind eye to the activities of ultranationalist groups in order to promote its own interests.

"We have the impression that the presence of these brown [racist] forces is very beneficial to someone. This is a well-tested method: neo-Nazi forces, publications, and groups are supported, an atmosphere of fear is created, and then the conclusion is made that the current president is needed otherwise a fascist president will come to power."

The wave of attacks has already forced a number of foreign students in Russia to drop out of university and go home.

In March alone, 15 students from Arab countries abandoned their studies in St. Petersburg and left Russia following a series of attacks on foreigners.

9 May: Commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II

10 May: Russia-EU summit to be held in Moscow

10 May: Russia and Latvia expected to sign a border treaty

26 May: Constitutional Court expected to rule in a case filed by the Federal Tax Service, which is seeking to overturn the current three-year statute of limitations on tax-related crimes

30-31 May: Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to visit Japan

19 June: Referendum in Samara on dismissing Mayor Georgii Limanskii

23 June: Yukos shareholders meeting

24 June: Gazprom shareholders meeting. Date by which merger of Gazprom and Rosneft to be completed, according to RBK

4 July: 750th anniversary of the founding of Kaliningrad

6-8 July: G-8 summit in Scotland

August: CIS summit to be held in Kazan

September: First-ever Sino-Russian military exercises to be held on the Shandong Peninsula

1 November: New Public Chamber expected to hold first session

2006: Russia to host a G-8 summit in St. Petersburg

1 January 2006: Date by which all political parties must conform to law on political parties, which requires at least 50,000 members and branches in one-half of all federation subjects, or either reregister as public organizations or be dissolved