Sergey Starzhinsky figures that his first taste of nearby Japan was a fruit-flavored lollipop that washed up on the beach in the 1970s.
These days, when sailors take his son-in-law’s sea urchins across the strait to Hokkaido, Starzhinsky has them pick up a large order of sushi before they head back.
An Asian Iron Curtain lingers on the edge of the Pacific, eight time zones and 4,500 miles from Moscow. In Russia’s ever-broadening quest for influence under President Vladimir Putin, this Cold War-era outpost is emerging as a pivotal piece on the Kremlin’s global chessboard.
Japan has long claimed that Russia illegally occupies Kunashir and a handful of other nearby islands on the southern end of the Kuril archipelago, which threads the sea between mainland Russia and northern Japan. Seen from Kunashir, the snow-sheathed mountains of northern Japan tower on the horizon, but there’s no regular passenger service to connect the two worlds.