Most history books say that World War II ended on 2 September 1945, the day when Japan signed the official surrender with the Allies. Some other books say it ended on 14 August 1945, when Japan admitted their defeat, although some weeks elapsed until the formal surrender was signed. However, for the Soviet troops, war ended on 9 May 1945, the Victory Day in the Soviet Union. There are many more dates: 8 May 1945, when the Allies celebrate the Victory Day in Europe; 12 May 1945, when the last German troops surrendered in Prague; 9 September 1945, when the last Japanese troops surrendered in China… This is quite usual in wars: there is the official end of war, the day of peace treaties and the date of real end of combats, regardless of what Joint Chiefs of Staff say. Choosing one of these dates as the main day for the end of war, that is, as the date included in history books, is just a convention. However, World War II is much more complex than that: strange as it may seem, Russia and Japan have not signed a peace treaty yet. Therefore, and legally speaking, World War II is not over. That’s how the story goes: in August 1945, the Soviet troops occupied the Kuril Islands, in the north of Japan, which are currently part of Russia’s Sakhalin Oblast region. These islands were given to Japan in 1875 but, at the Yalta Conference, the US and Russia distributed world territories and decided that these islands were to be part of the Soviet Union. And then the whole thing got complicated. In 1951, Japan formally renounced to these islands in the peace treaty of San Francisco, but Russia did not sign this treaty, so five years later Japan changed its mind and now these islands are claimed by Japan, which refers to them as the Northern Territories. There have been many attempts to sign a treaty between Russia and Japan to end the legal battle for these islands, so far without success. Although the Soviet Union has disappeared, neither Yeltsin nor Putin have changed their minds and the Kuril dispute is likely to go on for a long time. Sad as it may be that two countries cannot sit together and talk to avoid a war, it is even sadder that they cannot agree to end a war.
- Map of the Kuril Islands:
- The Kuril Islands dispute: http://www1.american.edu/ted/ice/kurile.htm
- Northern territories: http://www.mofa.go.jp/region/europe/russia/territory/
- Documentary film about this dispute (26 min):