Russia-Japan: whether progress can be made in the negotiations on the islands?

Russia-Japan: whether progress can be made in the negotiations on the islands?

The Kremlin has confirmed the upcoming meeting of the Russian and Japanese leaders, Vladimir Putin and Shinzo Abe, at the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok on September 2nd and 3rd. The last talks between Russia and Japan were held in Sochi on May 6th. Tokyo hopes that one of the topics of the talks will be the fate of the Kuril Islands. Vestnik Kavkaza invites our readers to get acquainted with the position of Alexander Panov on Russian-Japanese issues, in an article from the Japan Times.Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin seem determined to achieve progress in negotiations to end a territorial dispute and bolster bilateral economic ties, according to a former Russian diplomat.

“The president has determination and so does the prime minister. The two counties need to take advantage of this window of opportunity,” former Russian Ambassador to Japan Alexander Panov said in a recent interview.

Abe is scheduled to visit Vladivostok in September and Putin is expected to visit Japan this year.

Putin “would be willing to visit” Yamaguchi Prefecture, which includes Abe’s constituency, said Panov, a 72-year-old pro-Japan diplomat with a certain level of influence on Russia’s foreign policy on Japan.

Asked about the recent Japan-Russia relationship, Panov said Japan was showing a stance of working with Russia on economic matters, while maintaining its sanctions against Russia as a Group of Seven advanced nation.

“Japan and Russia need neighborly and friendly relations and this is important for the balance of security in the Asia-Pacific region,” he said.

Alexander Panov

During the upcoming summit talks in Vladivostok, the two leaders are expected to confirm progress in an eight-point cooperation plan agreed at their meeting in Sochi in May, Panov said. A presidential visit to Japan for another summit will likely be realized by the end of 2016, and most of the meetings’ goals are expected to focus on economic issues, he added.

At the Sochi meeting, Abe proposed a new approach for bilateral talks on the territorial dispute, which revolves around a Russian-held group of islands off Hokkaido known as the Northern Territories.

Due to wrangling over the islands, which were seized from Japan by Soviet troops in the closing days of World War II, Japan and Russia have not concluded a peace treaty to put a formal end to their wartime hostilities.

Panov said that to date the two countries have “discussed all options.”

The 1956 Japan-Soviet joint declaration was an important event and Russian experts are scheduled to visit Japan in October to participate in a forum to mark the 60th anniversary of the signing of the document, he said. The 1956 joint declaration calls for the return of the two smaller islands to Japan after the conclusion of a peace treaty.

In late October, Valentina Matviyenko, chair of the Federation Council, will visit Japan and this would also be an appropriate chance to hold discussions, Panov added.

Asked whether Putin’s expected visit to Japan will help the territorial negotiations, Panov said this will depend on Japan’s reaction to his visit, adding, “There is no optimism.”

While the sanctions are in place, progress in negotiations over the islands cannot be made without neighborly and friendly bilateral relations, Panov said. Even if concrete achievements cannot be expected, it is possible for Abe and Putin to agree on guidelines on how to advance future negotiations, he said.

On the possible Abe-Putin summit meeting in Yamaguchi, Panov said that wherever the talks are held in Japan, a visit by Putin will be official and also a response to Abe’s official visit to Russia in April 2013.