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More than 60 years ago, in the last days of World War II, the Soviet Union seized the four islands north of Hokkaido from Japan, islands that Russia had recognized as Japanese for nearly 100 years prior to their occupation in late 1945. Over the course of the past six decades, the dispute over ownership of these four islands has overshadowed relations between Moscow and Tokyo, frustrating repeated efforts to sign once and for all a peace treaty formally ending the state of war between them that began in August 1945. Japan's desire for greater energy security in recent years has held out the possibility of improved relations with Russia, the world's second-largest oil producer after Saudi Arabia, provided that the two nations could reach some kind of modus vivendi over the territorial issue. However, the recent Putin-Koizumi summit held in Tokyo late last year offered little hope that this might occur anytime soon. Observers in both countries are now suggesting that it may take another decade, and the passing of the generation exiled from the disputed islands, before this issue can be resolved dispassionately as a nettlesome historical problem, rather than the matter of personal loss and human dislocation that it has become.