Russia ready to resolve territorial row

Kyodo

Russian Ambassador to Japan Evgeny Afanasiev has signaled his government’s readiness to seek a “mutually acceptable” solution to the long-running territorial dispute over four Russian-held isles off Hokkaido.

His remarks Wednesday at a press event in Tokyo came ahead of former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori’s slated visit to Moscow in late February to discuss with Russian President Vladimir Putin the sovereignty of the islands, which Japan wants returned.

“We are ready to discuss and search for solutions on any issue” causing tension in bilateral ties, Afanasiev said. “We decided, together with Japan’s leaders, that we should discuss this matter . . . to create conditions for some formula that can be acceptable to both (sides).”

The dispute over the islands of Kunashiri, Etorofu and Shikotan and the Habomai islets, which were all seized by the Soviet Union after Japan’s surrender in World War II, has prevented the two countries from concluding a formal postwar peace treaty.

Afanasiev said that while Tokyo and Moscow should not try to solve the isle rift with undue haste, “We need a peace treaty that will finally resolve all historical issues between us.”

But he declined comment on a possible framework. Tokyo has adopted the position that, providing Moscow acknowledges Japan’s inherent jurisdiction of the islands, it is flexible about the timing of their return.

The two sides are arranging for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to visit Russia later this year, possibly between April and May, for a summit with Putin.