Kuril Islands

Last updated
Kuril Islands
Disputed islands
Native name: Курильские острова
Sea of Okhotsk map.png
Location of the Kuril Islands in the Western Pacific between Japan and the Kamchatka Peninsula of Russia
LocationPacific Ocean
Coordinates 46°30′N151°30′E / 46.500°N 151.500°E / 46.500; 151.500 Coordinates: 46°30′N151°30′E / 46.500°N 151.500°E / 46.500; 151.500
Total islands56
Area10,503.2 km2 (2,595,400 acres; 4,055.3 sq mi)
Length1,150 km (715 miles)
Highest point
  • Alaid
  • 2,339 metres (7,674 ft)
Administered by
Districts Severo-Kurilsky, Kurilsky and Yuzhno-Kurilsky Districts (Sakhalin Oblast)
Claimed by
Districts Severo-Kurilsky, Kurilsky and Yuzhno-Kurilsky Districts (Sakhalin Oblast)
Subprefecture Nemuro Subprefecture (Hokkaido) (partial claim, southernmost islands)
Population19,434 (as of 2010)
Matua Island as seen from Raikoke. Matua.jpg
Matua Island as seen from Raikoke.

The Kuril Islands or Kurile Islands ( /ˈkʊərɪl, ˈkjʊərɪl, kjʊˈrl/ ; Russian :Кури́льские острова́, tr. Kurilskiye ostrova,IPA:  [kʊˈrʲilʲskʲɪjə ɐstrɐˈva] or островá Тисима; Japanese: Kuriru rettō(クリル列島, "Kuril Islands") or Chishima rettō(千島列島, "Chishima Islands")), in Russia's Sakhalin Oblast region, form a volcanic archipelago that stretches approximately 1,300 km (810 mi) northeast from Hokkaido, Japan, to Kamchatka, Russia, separating the Sea of Okhotsk from the north Pacific Ocean. There are 56 islands and many minor rocks. It consists of Greater Kuril Chain and Lesser Kuril Chain. [1] The total land area is 10,503.2 square kilometres (4,055.3 sq mi) [2] and the total population is 19,434. [3]

Russian language East Slavic language

Russian is an East Slavic language, which is official in the Russian Federation, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, as well as being widely used throughout Eastern Europe, the Baltic states, the Caucasus and Central Asia. It was the de facto language of the Soviet Union until its dissolution on 25 December 1991. Although nearly three decades have passed since the breakup of the Soviet Union, Russian is used in official capacity or in public life in all the post-Soviet nation-states, as well as in Israel and Mongolia.

Romanization of Russian Romanization of the Russian alphabet

Romanization of Russian is the process of transliterating the Russian language from the Cyrillic script into the Latin script.

Japanese is an East Asian language spoken by about 128 million people, primarily in Japan, where it is the national language. It is a member of the Japonic language family, and its relation to other languages, such as Korean, is debated. Japanese has been grouped with language families such as Ainu, Austroasiatic, and the now-discredited Altaic, but none of these proposals has gained widespread acceptance.


All the islands are under Russian jurisdiction. Japan claims the four southernmost islands, including two of the largest (Iturup and Kunashir) as part of its territory, as well as Shikotan and the Habomai islets, which has led to the ongoing Kuril Islands dispute. The disputed islands are known in Japan as the country's "Northern Territories". [4] In 2018 Russo-Japanese talks on reunification of islands with Japan resumed. [5]

Iturup island in South Kuril Islands

Iturup is one of the Kuril Islands. It was formerly known as Staten Island. It is the largest and northernmost island in the southern Kurils, ownership of which is disputed by Japan and Russia.

Shikotan island in South Kuril Islands

Shikotan, also known as Shpanberg, is an island which is administered by the Russian Federation as part of Yuzhno-Kurilsky District of Sakhalin Oblast, and that is claimed by Japan as part of Nemuro Subprefecture of Hokkaido Prefecture. Russia recognised Japanese sovereignty over the island in the 19th century. In September 1945, during the final days of World War II, the island was invaded by 600 Soviet troops. It is one of the islands which the Soviet Union agreed in 1956 to transfer to Japan in the event of a peace treaty between the two countries. Between the late-1950s and to the 1960s, the Soviet Union fortified the island with old tanks repurposed as coastal-defence artillery against a possible seaborne invasion, by digging them into the ground and employing them as fixed gun emplacements. The name of Shikotan derives from the Ainu language and means "the village proper" or "real town".

Kuril Islands dispute Disagreement between Japan and Russia over sovereignty of the South Kuril Islands

The Kuril Islands dispute, also known as the Northern Territories dispute, is a disagreement between Japan and Russia and also some individuals of the Ainu people over sovereignty of the South Kuril Islands, which stretch between northern Hokkaido and southern Kamchatka, in the Sea of Okhotsk. These islands, like other islands in the Kuril chain that are not in dispute, were annexed by the Soviet Union in aftermath of the Kuril Islands landing operation at the end of World War II. The disputed islands are under Russian administration as the South Kuril District of the Sakhalin Oblast. They are claimed by Japan, which refers to them as its Northern Territories or Southern Chishima, and considers them part of the Nemuro Subprefecture of Hokkaido Prefecture.


The Sarychev volcano erupting on June 12, 2009, as seen from the International Space Station. Sarychev Volcano edit.jpg
The Sarychev volcano erupting on June 12, 2009, as seen from the International Space Station.

The name Kuril originates from the autonym of the aboriginal Ainu, the islands' original inhabitants: kur, meaning "man". It may also be related to names for other islands that have traditionally been inhabited by the Ainu people, such as Kuyi or Kuye for Sakhalin and Kai for Hokkaidō. In Japanese, the Kuril Islands are known as the Chishima Islands (Kanji: 千島列島Chishima Rettōpronounced  [tɕi̥ɕima ɾettoː] , literally, Thousand Islands Archipelago), also known as the Kuriru Islands (Katakana: クリル列島Kuriru Rettō [kɯɾiɾɯ ɾettoː] , literally, Kuril Archipelago). Once the Russians reached the islands in the 18th century they found a pseudo-etymology from Russian kurit' (курить – "to smoke") due to the continual fumes and steam above the islands from volcanoes.

Ainu people Ethnic group

The Ainu or the Aynu, in the historical Japanese texts the Ezo (蝦夷), are an indigenous people of Japan and Russia.

Indigenous peoples Ethnic group descended from and identified with the original inhabitants of a given region

Indigenous peoples, also known as first peoples, aboriginal peoples or native peoples, are ethnic groups who are the original settlers of a given region, in contrast to groups that have settled, occupied or colonized the area more recently. Groups are usually described as indigenous when they maintain traditions or other aspects of an early culture that is associated with a given region. Not all indigenous peoples share this characteristic, as many have adopted substantial elements of a colonizing culture, such as dress, religion or language. Indigenous peoples may be settled in a given region (sedentary) or exhibit a nomadic lifestyle across a large territory, but they are generally historically associated with a specific territory on which they depend. Indigenous societies are found in every inhabited climate zone and continent of the world.

Sakhalin large Russian island in the North Pacific Ocean

Sakhalin is Russia's largest island, lying in the North Pacific Ocean between 45°50' and 54°24' N. It is administered as part of Sakhalin Oblast. Sakhalin, which is about one third the size of Honshu, is just off the east coast of Russia, and just north of Japan. The island's population was 497,973 as of the 2010 census, made up of mostly ethnic Russians and a smaller Korean community. The indigenous peoples of the island are the Ainu, Oroks and Nivkhs.


The Kuril Islands, showing the de facto division between Japan and Russia over time. Demis-kurils-russian names.png
The Kuril Islands, showing the de facto division between Japan and Russia over time.

The Kuril Islands form part of the ring of tectonic instability encircling the Pacific Ocean referred to as the Ring of Fire. The islands themselves are summits of stratovolcanoes that are a direct result of the subduction of the Pacific Plate under the Okhotsk Plate, which forms the Kuril Trench some 200 kilometres (120 mi) east of the islands. The chain has around 100 volcanoes, some 40 of which are active, and many hot springs and fumaroles. There is frequent seismic activity, including a magnitude 8.5 earthquake in 1963 and one of magnitude 8.3 recorded on November 15, 2006, which resulted in tsunami waves up to 1.5 metres (5 ft) reaching the California coast. [6]

Tectonics The processes that control the structure and properties of the Earths crust and its evolution through time

Tectonics is the process that controls the structure and properties of the Earth's crust and its evolution through time. In particular, it describes the processes of mountain building, the growth and behavior of the strong, old cores of continents known as cratons, and the ways in which the relatively rigid plates that constitute the Earth's outer shell interact with each other. Tectonics also provides a framework for understanding the earthquake and volcanic belts that directly affect much of the global population. Tectonic studies are important as guides for economic geologists searching for fossil fuels and ore deposits of metallic and nonmetallic resources. An understanding of tectonic principles is essential to geomorphologists to explain erosion patterns and other Earth surface features.

Stratovolcano Tall, conical volcano built up by many layers of hardened lava and other ejecta

A stratovolcano, also known as a composite volcano, is a conical volcano built up by many layers (strata) of hardened lava, tephra, pumice and ash. Unlike shield volcanoes, stratovolcanoes are characterized by a steep profile with a summit crater and periodic intervals of explosive eruptions and effusive eruptions, although some have collapsed summit craters called calderas. The lava flowing from stratovolcanoes typically cools and hardens before spreading far, due to high viscosity. The magma forming this lava is often felsic, having high-to-intermediate levels of silica, with lesser amounts of less-viscous mafic magma. Extensive felsic lava flows are uncommon, but have travelled as far as 15 km (9.3 mi).

Pacific Plate An oceanic tectonic plate under the Pacific Ocean

The Pacific Plate is an oceanic tectonic plate that lies beneath the Pacific Ocean. At 103 million square kilometres (40,000,000 sq mi), it is the largest tectonic plate.

The climate on the islands is generally severe, with long, cold, stormy winters and short and notoriously foggy summers. The average annual precipitation is 30–40 inches (760–1,020 mm), most of which falls as snow.

The chain ranges from temperate to sub-Arctic climate types, and the vegetative cover consequently ranges from tundra in the north to dense spruce and larch forests on the larger southern islands. The highest elevations on the islands are Alaid volcano (highest point: 2,339 m or 7,674 ft) on Atlasov Island at the northern end of the chain and Tyatya volcano (1,819 m or 5,968 ft) on Kunashir Island at the southern end.

Tundra biome where the tree growth is hindered by low temperatures and short growing seasons

In physical geography, tundra is a type of biome where the tree growth is hindered by low temperatures and short growing seasons. The term tundra comes through Russian тундра from the Kildin Sami word тӯндар meaning "uplands", "treeless mountain tract". Tundra vegetation is composed of dwarf shrubs, sedges and grasses, mosses, and lichens. Scattered trees grow in some tundra regions. The ecotone between the tundra and the forest is known as the tree line or timberline.

Spruce genus of plants

A spruce is a tree of the genus Picea, a genus of about 35 species of coniferous evergreen trees in the family Pinaceae, found in the northern temperate and boreal (taiga) regions of the Earth. Spruces are large trees, from about 20–60 m tall when mature, and have whorled branches and conical form. They can be distinguished from other members of the pine family by their needles (leaves), which are four-sided and attached singly to small persistent peg-like structures on the branches, and by their cones, which hang downwards after they are pollinated. The needles are shed when 4–10 years old, leaving the branches rough with the retained pegs. In other similar genera, the branches are fairly smooth.

Larch genus of plants

Larches are conifers in the genus Larix, of the family Pinaceae. Growing from 20 to 45 m tall, they are native to much of the cooler temperate northern hemisphere, on lowlands in the north and high on mountains further south. Larches are among the dominant plants in the boreal forests of Siberia and Canada. Although they are conifers, larches are deciduous trees that lose their needles in the autumn.

One of the Kuril Islands Kuril Island.jpg
One of the Kuril Islands
Caldera of the island Ushishir Yankicha.jpg
Caldera of the island Ushishir

Landscape types and habitats on the islands include many kinds of beach and rocky shores, cliffs, wide rivers and fast gravelly streams, forests, grasslands, alpine tundra, crater lakes and peat bogs. The soils are generally productive, owing to the periodic influxes of volcanic ash and, in certain places, owing to significant enrichment by seabird guano. However, many of the steep, unconsolidated slopes are susceptible to landslides and newer volcanic activity can entirely denude a landscape. Only the southernmost island has large areas covered by trees, while more northerly islands have no trees, or spotty tree cover.

Alpine tundra biome

Alpine tundra is a type of natural region or biome that does not contain trees because it is at high elevation. As the latitude of a location approaches the poles, the threshold elevation for alpine tundra gets lower until it reaches sea level, and alpine tundra merges with polar tundra.

Crater lake Lake formed within a (usually volcanic) crater

A crater lake is a lake that forms in a volcanic crater or caldera, such as a maar; less commonly and with lower association to the term a lake may form in an impact crater caused by a meteorite, or in the crater left by an artificial explosion caused by humans. Sometimes lakes which form inside calderas are called caldera lakes, but often this distinction is not made. Crater lakes covering active (fumarolic) volcanic vents are sometimes known as volcanic lakes, and the water within them is often acidic, saturated with volcanic gases, and cloudy with a strong greenish color. For example, the crater lake of Kawah Ijen in Indonesia has a pH of under 0.5. Lakes located in dormant or extinct volcanoes tend to have fresh water, and the water clarity in such lakes can be exceptional due to the lack of inflowing streams and sediment.

Seabird Birds that have adapted to life within the marine environment

Seabirds are birds that are adapted to life within the marine environment. While seabirds vary greatly in lifestyle, behaviour and physiology, they often exhibit striking convergent evolution, as the same environmental problems and feeding niches have resulted in similar adaptations. The first seabirds evolved in the Cretaceous period, and modern seabird families emerged in the Paleogene.



Owing to their location along the Pacific shelf edge and the confluence of Okhotsk Sea gyre and the southward Oyashio Current, the Kuril islands are surrounded by waters that are among the most productive in the North Pacific, supporting a wide range and high abundance of marine life.

Invertebrates : Extensive kelp beds surrounding almost every island provide crucial habitat for sea urchins, various mollusks and countless other invertebrates and their associated predators. Many species of squid provide a principal component of the diet of many of the smaller marine mammals and birds along the chain.

Fish : Further offshore, walleye pollock, Pacific cod, several species of flatfish are of the greatest commercial importance. During the 1980s, migratory Japanese sardine was one of the most abundant fish in the summer and the main pinnipeds were a significant object of harvest for the indigenous populations of the Kuril islands, both for food and materials such as skin and bone. The long term fluctuations in the range and distribution of human settlements along the Kuril island presumably tracked the pinniped ranges. In historical times, fur seals were heavily exploited for their fur in the 19th and early 20th centuries and several of the largest reproductive rookeries, as on Raykoke island, were extirpated. In contrast, commercial harvest of the true seals and Steller sea lions has been relatively insignificant on the Kuril islands proper. Since the 1960s there has been essentially no additional harvest and the pinniped populations in the Kuril islands appear to be fairly healthy and in some cases expanding. The notable exception is the now extinct Japanese sea lion which was known to occasionally haul out on the Kuril islands.

Sea otters were exploited very heavily for their pelts in the 19th century. Indeed, as shown by 19th and 20th century whaling catch and sighting records. [7]

Seabirds : The Kuril islands are home to many millions of seabirds, including northern fulmars, tufted puffins, murres, kittiwakes, guillemots, auklets, petrels, gulls and cormorants. On many of the smaller islands in summer, where terrestrial predators are absent, virtually every possibly hummock, cliff niche or underneath of boulder is occupied by a nesting bird.


The composition of terrestrial species on the Kuril islands is dominated by Asian mainland taxa via migration from Hokkaido and Sakhalin Islands and by Kamchatkan taxa from the North. While highly diverse, there is a relatively low level of endemism.

The WWF divides the Kuril Islands into two ecoregions. The southern Kurils, along with southwestern Sakhalin, comprise the South Sakhalin-Kurile mixed forests ecoregion. The northern islands are part of the Kamchatka-Kurile meadows sparse forests, a larger ecoregion that extends onto the Kamchatka peninsula and Commander Islands.

Because of the generally smaller size and isolation of the central islands, few major terrestrial mammals have colonized these, though red and Arctic foxes were introduced for the sake of the fur trade in the 1880s. The bulk of the terrestrial mammal biomass is taken up by rodents, many introduced in historical times. The largest southernmost and northernmost islands are inhabited by brown bear, foxes, and martens. Some species of deer are found on the more southerly islands. It is claimed that a wild cat, the Kurilian Bobtail, originates from the Kuril Islands. The bobtail is due to the mutation of a dominant gene. The cat has been domesticated and exported to nearby Russia and bred there, becoming a popular domestic cat.

Among terrestrial birds, ravens, peregrine falcons, some wrens and wagtails are common.


Kuril Ainu people next to their traditional dwelling. Kuril Ainu dwelling.jpg
Kuril Ainu people next to their traditional dwelling.
Replica of an East Indiaman of the Dutch East India Company/United East India Company (VOC). In 1643 the VOC's navigator Maarten Gerritsz Vries became the first recorded European to explore and map Vries Strait. Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie spiegelretourschip Amsterdam replica.jpg
Replica of an East Indiaman of the Dutch East India Company/United East India Company (VOC). In 1643 the VOC's navigator Maarten Gerritsz Vries became the first recorded European to explore and map Vries Strait.

The Ainu people were early inhabitants of Kuril Islands, although there are few records that predate the 17th century. The Japanese administration first took nominal control of the islands in the Edo period of Japan, in the form of claims by the Matsumae clan. It is claimed that the Japanese knew of the northern islands 370 years ago. [8] On the Shōhō Era Map of Japan (Shōhō kuni ezu( 正保国絵図 )), a map of Japan made by the Tokugawa shogunate in 1644, there are 39 large and small islands shown northeast of the Shiretoko Peninsula and Cape Nosappu.

Choka seems to have been the Ainu name for Paramushir and its neighbouring islands. Then Rakkoshima ("sea-otter isles") extended from Onnekotan to Simushir. Urup, Iturup and Kunashir are the three southern islands.

In 1811, Russian Captain Vasily Golovnin and his crew, who stopped at Kunashir during their hydrographic survey, were captured by retainers of the Nambu clan, and sent to the Matsumae authorities. Because a Japanese trader, Takadaya Kahei, was also captured by Petr Rikord, Captain of a Russian vessel near Kunashir in 1812, Japan and Russia entered into negotiations to establish the border between the two countries.[ citation needed ]

American whaleships caught right whales off the islands between 1847 and 1892. [9] Three of the ships were wrecked on the islands: two on Urup in 1855 [10] [11] and one on Makanrushi in 1856. [12] In September 1892, the bark Cape Horn Pigeon, of New Bedford, was seized by a Russian schooner north of Kunashir Island and escorted to Vladivostok, where it was detained for nearly two weeks. [13]

The Treaty of Commerce, Navigation and Delimitation was concluded in 1855, and the border was established between Iturup and Urup. This border confirmed that Japanese territory stretched south from Iturup and Russian territory stretched north of Urup. Sakhalin remained a place where people from both countries could live. The Treaty of Saint Petersburg in 1875 resulted in Japan relinquishing all rights over Sakhalin in exchange for Russia ceding all of the Kuril Islands south of Kamchatka.

During the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–1905, Gunji, a retired Japanese military man and local settler in Shumshu, led an invading party to the Kamchatka coast. Russia sent reinforcements to the area to capture and intern this group. After the war was over, Japan received fishing rights in Russian waters as part of the Russo-Japanese Fisheries Agreement until 1945.

During their armed intervention in Siberia 1918–1925, Japanese forces from the northern Kurils, along with United States and European forces, occupied southern Kamchatka. Japanese vessels made naval strikes against Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky.

While in February 1945 the Yalta Agreement [14] had promised to the Soviet Union South Sakhalin and the Kuril islands in return for entering into World War II against the Japanese, the Soviet Union nevertheless mounted an armed invasion of South Sakhalin at the cost of over 5,000 lives. [15] Japan maintains a claim to the four southernmost islands of Kunashir, Iturup, Shikotan, and the Habomai rocks, together called the Northern Territories(see Kuril Islands dispute).

Japanese administration

A map of Kuril Islands from Gisuke Sasamori's 1893 book Chishima Tanken Map of Chishima by Gisuke Sasamori.jpg
A map of Kuril Islands from Gisuke Sasamori's 1893 book Chishima Tanken
Shana Village in Etorofu (Showa period). There's a village hospital in the front, a factory in the left back with a fishery and a central radio tower (before 1945). Shana Village in Etorofu Island.JPG
Shana Village in Etorofu (Shōwa period). There's a village hospital in the front, a factory in the left back with a fishery and a central radio tower (before 1945).

In 1869, the Meiji government established the Colonization Commission in Sapporo to aid in the development of the northern area. Ezo was renamed Hokkaidō and Kita Ezo later received the name of Karafuto. Eleven provinces[ which? ] and 86 districts were founded by Meiji government and were put under the control of feudal clans. Because the Meiji government could not sufficiently cope with Russians moving to south Sakhalin, Japan negotiated with Russia over control of the Kuril Islands, resulting in the Treaty of Saint Petersburg that ceded the eighteen islands north of Uruppu to Japan and all of Sakhalin to Russia.

Road networks and post offices were established on Kunashiri and Etorofu. Life on the islands became more stable when a regular sea route connecting islands with Hokkaidō was opened and a telegraphic system began. At the end of the Taishō period, towns and villages were organized in the northern territories and village offices were established on each island. The Habomai island towns were all part of Habomai Village for example. In other cases the town and village system was not adopted on islands north of Uruppu, which were under direct control of the Nemuro Subprefectural office of the Hokkaidō government.

Each village had a district forestry system, a marine product examination center, salmon hatchery, post office, police station, elementary school, Shinto temple, and other public facilities. In 1930, 8,300 people lived on Kunashiri island and 6,000 on Etorofu island, and most of them were engaged in coastal and high sea fishing.

World War II

Severo-Kurilsk, Paramushir 214 1426 Sev Kur main street wiki.jpg
Severo-Kurilsk, Paramushir

Russian administration

Current situation

Main village in Shikotan Shikotan 008.jpg
Main village in Shikotan
Russian Orthodox church, Kunashir Kunashir hram.jpg
Russian Orthodox church, Kunashir
Yuzhno-Kurilsk, Kunashir Yuzhno-Kurilsk anchor.jpg
Yuzhno-Kurilsk, Kunashir

As of 2013, 19,434 people inhabited the Kuril Islands. These include ethnic Russians, Ukrainians, Belarusians, Tatars, Nivkhs, Oroch, and Ainus. Russian Orthodoxy and Islam are the only religions with significant following among the population.[ citation needed ] Some of the villages are permanently manned by Russian soldiers (especially in Kunashir following recent tensions). Others are inhabited by civilians, which are mostly fishermen, workers of the fish factories, dockers, and social sphere workers (policemen, medics, teachers, etc.). Recent construction works on the islands attracts a lot of migrant workers from the rest of Russia and former USSR. As of 2014, there were only 8 inhabited islands out of a total of 56. Iturup Island is over 60% ethnically Ukrainian. [4] On 8 February 2017 the Russian government gave names to five previously unnamed Kuril islands in Sakhalin Oblast: Derevyanko Island (after Kuzma Derevyanko, 43°22′8″N146°1′3″E / 43.36889°N 146.01750°E / 43.36889; 146.01750 ), Gnechko Island (after Alexey Gnechko, 43°48′5″N146°52′1″E / 43.80139°N 146.86694°E / 43.80139; 146.86694 ), Gromyko Island (after Andrei Gromyko, 46°14′1″N150°36′1″E / 46.23361°N 150.60028°E / 46.23361; 150.60028 ), Farkhutdinov Island (after Igor Farkhutdinov, 43°48′5″N146°53′2″E / 43.80139°N 146.88389°E / 43.80139; 146.88389 ) and Shchetinina Island (after Anna Shchetinina, 46°13′7″N150°34′6″E / 46.21861°N 150.56833°E / 46.21861; 150.56833 ). [16]


Fishing is the primary occupation. The islands have strategic and economic value, in terms of fisheries and also mineral deposits of pyrite, sulfur, and various polymetallic ores. There are hopes that oil exploration will provide an economic boost to the islands. [17]

The economic rise of the Russian Federation has been seen on the Kurils too. The most visible sign of improvement is the new construction in infrastructure. In 2014, construction workers built a pier and a breakwater in Kitovy Bay, central Iturup, where barges are a major means of transport, sailing between the cove and ships anchored offshore. A new road has been carved through the woods near Kurilsk, the island's biggest village, going to the site of Yuzhno-Kurilsk Mendeleyevo Airport. [18]

Gidrostroy, the Kurils' biggest business group with interests in fishing, construction and real estate, built its second fish processing factory on Iturup island in 2006, introducing a state-of-the-art conveyor system.

To deal with a rise in the demand of electricity, the local government is also upgrading a state-run geothermal power plant at Mount Baransky, an active volcano, where steam and hot water can be found. [19]


The main Russian force stationed on the islands is the 18th Machine Gun Artillery Division, which has its headquarters in Goryachiye Klyuchi on Iturup Island. There are also Border Guard Service troops stationed on the islands. In February 2011, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev called for substantial reinforcements of the Kuril Islands defences. In 2015 anti-aircraft missile systems 'Tor', 'BUK' missile systems, coastal defence missile systems 'Bastion', combat helicopters Ka-52 'Alligator' and 1 'Varshavyanka' project submarine came on defence of Kuril Islands. [20]

Atlasov Island

Atlasov Island -- northernmost and highest island of the Kurils, viewed from space (southwest-up image) Atlasov island.jpg
Atlasov Island — northernmost and highest island of the Kurils, viewed from space (southwest-up image)

The northernmost, Atlasov Island (Oyakoba in Japanese), is an almost-perfect volcanic cone rising sheer out of the sea; it has been praised by the Japanese in haiku, wood-block prints, and other forms, in much the same way as the better-known Mt. Fuji.

List of main islands

Signalny Rock, viewed from Cape Nosappu, Japan Signalny Rock.jpg
Signalny Rock, viewed from Cape Nosappu, Japan

While in Russian sources[ citation needed ] the islands are mentioned for the first time in 1646, the earliest detailed information about them was provided by the explorer Vladimir Atlasov in 1697. In the 18th and early 19th centuries, the Kuril Islands were explored by Danila Antsiferov, I. Kozyrevsky, Ivan Yevreinov, Fyodor Luzhin, Martin Shpanberg, Adam Johann von Krusenstern, Vasily Golovnin, and Henry James Snow.

The following table lists information on the main islands from north to south:

Island Russian : Name Japanese : NameAlternative
Island GroupCapital / Landing pointOther
Severo-Kurilsky District North Kurils North Kurils (北千島きたちしま) Severo-Kurilsk Shelikovo, Podgorny, Baikovo 3,504.002,560
Shumshu Шумшу占守島しゅむしゅとうShumushuNorth Kurils Baikovo 388.020
Atlasov Атласова阿頼度島あらいどとうOyakoba, AraidoNorth KurilsAlaidskaya Bay150.00
Paramushir Парамушир幌筵島ぱらむしるとうParamushiru, HoromushiroNorth Kurils Severo-Kurilsk Shelikovo, Podgorny 2,053.02,540
Antsiferov Анциферова志林規島しりんきとうShirinkiNorth KurilsAntsiferov beachCape Terkut7.00
Makanrushi Маканруши磨勘留島まかんるとうMakanruNorth KurilsZakat50.00
Awos Авось帆掛岩Hokake, HainokoNorth Kurils0.10
Onekotan Онекотан温禰古丹島おんねこたんとうNorth KurilsMusselKuroisi, Nemo, Shestakov425.00
Kharimkotan Харимкотан志林規島しりんきとう春牟古丹島Harimukotan, HarumukotanNorth KurilsSunazhmaSevergin Bay70.00
Ekarma Экарма越渇磨島EkarumaNorth KurilsKruglyy30.00
Chirinkotan Чиринкотан知林古丹島North KurilsCape Ptichy6.00
Shiashkotan Шиашкотан捨子古丹島ShasukotanNorth KurilsMakarovka122.00
Lowuschki Rocks Ловушки牟知列岩MushiruNorth Kurils1,50
Raikoke Райкоке雷公計島North KurilsRaikoke4.60
Matua Матуа松輪島MatsuwaNorth KurilsSarychevo52.00
Rasshua Расшуа羅処和島Rashowa, RasutsuaNorth KurilsArches Point67.00
Srednego Среднего摺手岩SurideNorth Kurils0
Ushishir Ушишир宇志知島UshishiruNorth KurilsKraternyaRyponkicha5.00
Ketoy Кетой計吐夷島KetoiNorth KurilsStorozheva73.00
Kurilsky District Middle Kurils (Naka-chishima / 中千島)split between both Japanese groups Kurilsk Reidovo, Kitovyi, Rybaki, Goryachiye Klyuchi, Kasatka, Burevestnik, Shumi-Gorodok, Gornyy 5,138.46,606
Simushir Симушир新知島Shimushiru, ShinshiruNorth Kurils Kraternyy Srednaya bay360.00
Broutona Броутона武魯頓島Buroton, MakanruruNorth KurilsNedostupnyy7.00
Chirpoy Чирпой知理保以島Chirihoi, ChierupoiNorth KurilsPeschanaya Bay21.00
Brat Chirpoyev Брат Чирпоев知理保以南島ChirihoinanNorth KurilsGarovnikovaSemenova16.00
Urup Уруп得撫島UruppuNorth KurilsMys Kastrikum Mys Van-der-Lind1,450.00
OtherNorth Kurils4.40
Iturup Итуруп択捉島Etorofu, Yetorup South Kurils (Minami-chishima / 南千島) Kurilsk Reidovo, Kitovyi, Rybaki, Goryachiye Klyuchi, Kasatka, Burevestnik, Shumi-Gorodok, Gornyy 3,280.06,602
Yuzhno-Kurilsky District South KurilsSouth Kurils Yuzhno-Kurilsk Malokurilskoye, Rudnaya, Lagunnoye, Otrada, Goryachiy Plyazh, Aliger, Mendeleyevo, Dubovoye, Polino, Golovnino 1,860.810,268
Kunashir Кунашир国後島KunashiriSouth Kurils Yuzhno-Kurilsk Rudnaya, Lagunnoye, Otrada, Goryachiy Plyazh, Aliger, Mendeleyevo, Dubovoye, Polino, Golovnino 1,499.07,800
Shikotan GroupШикотан色丹列島South Kurils Malokurilskoye Dumnova, Otradnaya, Krabozavodskoye (formerly Anama), Zvezdnaya, Voloshina, Kray Sveta 264.132,440
Shikotan IslandШикотан色丹島South Kurils Malokurilskoye Dumnova, Otradnaya, Krabozavodskoye (formerly Anama), Zvezdnaya, Voloshina, Kray Sveta 255.002,440
OtherSouth Kurils Ayvazovskovo 9.10
Khabomai Хабомаи歯舞群島HabomaiSouth KurilsZorkiy Zelyonyi, Polonskogo 97.7028
** Polonskogo Полонского多楽島TarakuSouth KurilsMoriakov Bay station11.572
** Oskolki Осколки海馬島Todo, KaibaSouth Kurils0
** Zelyonyi Зелёный志発島ShibotsuSouth KurilsGlushnevskyi station58.723
** Kharkar Харкар春苅島Harukaru, DyominaSouth KurilsHaruka0.80
** Yuri Юрий勇留島YuriSouth KurilsKalernaya10.320
** Anuchina Анучина秋勇留島AkiyuriSouth KurilsBolshoye Bay2.350
** Tanfilyeva Танфильева水晶島SuishōSouth KurilsZorkiyTanfilyevka Bay, Bolotnoye12.9223
** Storozhevoy Сторожевой萌茂尻島MoemoshiriSouth Kurils0.070
** Rifovy Рифовыйオドケ島OdokeSouth Kurils0
** Signalny Сигнальный貝殻島KaigaraSouth Kurils0.020
** OtherSouth Kurils Opasnaga, Udivitelnaya 1.00

See also

Related Research Articles

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Habomai Islands island group in South Kuril Islands

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Paramushir island in Russia

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Yuri (island) Sakhalin Oblast, Russia

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Ekarma island in Russia

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Kharimkotan island in Russia

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Anuchina island in the Habomai Islands

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Kuril Ainu, or Kuril, is an extinct and poorly attested Ainu language of the Kuril Islands, now part of Russia. The main inhabited islands were Kunashir, Iturup and Urup in the south, and Shumshu in the north. Other islands either had small populations or were visited for fishing or hunting. There may have been a small mixed Kuril–Itelmen population at the southern tip of the Kamchatka Peninsula.

Japan–Russia border Separates territories of border between Japan and Russia

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Kurils Nature Reserve

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South Sakhalin-Kurile mixed forests

The South Sakhalin-Kurile mixed forests ecoregion is split between the southwest region of Sakhalin Island, and the southern three islands of the Kurile Islands chain in the Russian Far East. The ecoregion is in the Palearctic ecozone, with a Humid Continental climate. It covers 12,432 km2 (4,800 sq mi).


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Further reading