The leaders of Russia and Japan yesterday agreed to increase efforts to resolve a territorial dispute that has prevented the nations signing a peace treaty to end World War II.
“We have instructed our foreign ministries to step up contacts on working out mutually acceptable options” for an end to the dispute, Russian President Vladimir Putin said after talks with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
They gave no indication that the meeting had produced any further progress toward a resolution of the dispute over four Pacific islands, which Russia calls the Southern Kuriles and Japan calls the Northern Territories.
Abe’s visit to Moscow is the first such high-level visit by a Japanese government leader in a decade.
Russia and Japan’s failure since the 1950s to agree a World War II peace treaty owing to the islands dispute has held up full potential of bilateral ties.
However since returning to power in December last year, Abe has made a priority of improving relations with Russia and given rise to cautious hope by backing the resumption of stalled talks on a solution.
Without directly referring to the islands dispute in his comments before the start of yesterday’s talks, Abe hailed the development of relations with Russia during Putin’s 13-year domination of the country, but said more needed to be done.
“The potential for cooperation has not been unlocked sufficiently and it is necessary to increase the cooperation between our countries as partners,” he said in comments translated from Japanese.
Abe has made clear he wants to build a strong personal relationship with Putin as the basis for solving the two countries’ problematic relations.
“I will work on boosting Japan-Russia relations so that this visit will mark a restart in stalled negotiations over a peace treaty,” Abe told reporters before leaving Tokyo.
The last such top-level official visit was by then-Japanese prime minister Junichiro Koizumi, who traveled to Moscow to meet Putin in January 2003.
Former Japanese prime ministers Yasuo Fukada and Taro Aso visited in 2008 and 2009 for shorter, lower-level trips.
Abe is being accompanied by a business delegation of 120 people, the biggest-ever such group to join a Japanese prime minister on a visit to Russia.
Japan is particularly interested in increasing its import of Russian energy resources as it seeks to diversify supplies in the wake of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant disaster.
Russia’s trade with Japan reached US$32 billion last year, but it was only Japan’s 15th-most important trading partner, in a sign of the unrealized potential of relations.
The dispute surrounds the southernmost four of the Kuril islands — known in Japan as the Northern Territories — which have been controlled by Moscow since they were seized by Soviet troops at Soviet dictator Josef Stalin’s behest in 1945.