Russia’s Vladimir Putin urges patience in negotiations with Japan over disputed islands, in setback for Shinzo Abe

The dispute concerning the four islands has kept the two countries from signing a peace treaty formally ending second world war hostilities

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 May, 2018, 4:12am
UPDATED : Sunday, 27 May, 2018, 9:41pm

Russian President Vladimir Putin urged patience in efforts to resolve a territorial dispute with Japan that’s lasted since the second world war – a setback for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe who’s made striking a deal a priority.

“It is important to patiently continue the search for a solution,’’ Putin said Saturday after their summit talks in the Kremlin in Moscow.

Abe, who’s waged a charm offensive, said Russia and Japan should forge economic cooperation on the four disputed islands to ensure an agreement “acceptable to both nations”.

Speaking at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum earlier, Abe had urged decisive steps to conclude a peace treaty with Russia.

Since coming to power in 2012, Abe has poured time and energy into seeking a breakthrough in the dispute over the islands, called the Southern Kurils in Russia and the Northern Territories in Japan. Russian troops seized the islands at the end of the war and the issue has prevented the two countries from signing a formal peace treaty.

The Japanese leader is eager for a deal partly to counterbalance China’s growing economic and military power in the region, while Russia has shown no sign that it’s in a rush and argues that time is needed to build up their relations.

As part of his strategy, Abe has pushed Japanese business to put money into Russia though there’s been only limited interest because of concern about the investment climate.

In a setback for Abe’s efforts, Russia has accelerated a military build-up on the islands. The government in Tokyo lodged a formal protest after 2,000 Russian troops held military exercises in February.

In a joint interview with Kyodo and other news agencies Friday, Putin said a peace treaty was possible if bilateral relations deepen through planned joint economic activities.

But when it comes to the disputed islands, it is still unclear whether the two countries would be able to come up with a “special framework” that does not compromise either side’s legal position on the islands’ sovereignty.

The two leaders have now met 21 times, including at a hot springs resort in Abe’s hometown of Nagato in 2016.

While they agreed to start detailed negotiations on a plan for joint economic development of the windswept territories, which lie 25 kilometres from Japan’s northern Hokkaido Island, the initiative has barely advanced because of a disagreement over whether the ventures would operate under Russian law.

Bloomberg, Kyodo