Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russian politicians face off in Kurile row

The Kurile Islands have become a political battleground this week between Russia's Foreign Ministry and parliament.

The development follows a warning last week from a senior member of the parliamentary committee on international relations, Viktor Sheinis, who said in an interview that because of disagreements over the future status of the Kurile Island territories, "now is not a very favorable time" for President Boris Yeltsin to plan a visit to Tokyo.

That visit is due to start on Sept. 15.

On July 24 the chairman of parliament's Constitutional Commission, Oleg Rumyantsev, proposed that deputies vote to recommend postponement of the presidential visit unless Yeltsin and parliament first agreed on the constitutional limits of the president's power to negotiate the future of the islands.

A closed-door hearing on this issue was called by Rumyantsev at the Supreme Soviet on Tuesday.

Sources who attended the meeting said there was angry opposition from some deputies, who accused Deputy Foreign Minister Georgy Kunadze of withholding information on Russia's negotiating proposals for the future of the islands.

Sheinis said that in his opinion, the hearing raised "more questions than answers".

"But I am sure of two points", he said. "Nobody can make Russia give up the islands if Russia does not want to do it. and no one can make Japan sign a peace treaty if the Japanese do not agree".

Rumyantsev and Sheinis favor a

formula for the Yeltsin visit that would aim at improvement of relations but put off any decision on the Kuriles. The Tuesday meeting agreed to set up a working group to draft recommendations for such a formula.

Japanese officials say Rumyantsev has "seriously misunderstood" the treaties governing the territories. They accuse Rumyantsev, a lawyer, of failing to follow international law.

Until recently the dispute with Japan over the territories had been fought by nationalists inside and outside parliament, who are opposed to Japan's terms, and Russia's Foreign Ministry, which has maintained an open mind on the matter.

The nationalists have accused Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev and Kunadze, who has responsibility for Asia and the Pacific, of selling out Russian interests for Japanese cash.

Japan's Foreign Ministry has busily courted members of Russia's Supreme Soviet.

The chairman of the international relations committee was invited to Tokyo last autumn; in March a delegation of four deputies was invited; and then earlier this month, another delegation of four deputies went to Tokyo as official guests.

The visits appear to have backfired on the hosts, for the last two delegation leaders, Sergei Baburin, leader of the Russian National Union, and Sheinis, a member of the pro-Yeltsin Democratic Russia faction, have returned to Moscow emphatically opposed to ceding sovereignty of the territories.

Baburin has said he is prepared to seek an indictment against Kozyrev and Kunadze for treason.