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Putin dropped hint about even split on disputed isles

Russian leader appears eager to solve row but avoids directly mentioning it in summit with Abe

Kyodo

Russian President Vladimir Putin has told Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that Russia has previously settled some of its border issues by splitting the disputed areas evenly with other countries, a Japanese delegation source said.

Putin, however, did not touch directly on a long-standing territorial dispute between Russia and Japan over a group of four islands when he met with Abe in Moscow on Monday, according to the source, but the remarks may be interpreted as a potential approach that the president has in mind to resolve the row.

Putin, who is keen to settle the dispute over the Russian-controlled islands off northern Japan and sign a postwar bilateral peace treaty, has told Abe that Moscow resolved its border dispute with China in 2008 by evenly dividing the contested islands on the Amur River, the source said.

Putin also made a reference to how his country used this approach to settle its maritime border dispute with Norway, the source said Tuesday.

Tokyo and Moscow remain at odds over the ownership of the islands — Etorofu, Kunashiri, Shikotan and the Habomai islet group.

Abe and Putin said in a joint statement released after their meeting that they will instruct their foreign ministries to “accelerate negotiations to work out a solution acceptable to both sides over the peace treaty issue.”

Equally dividing the Northern Territories would mean drawing a border across Etorofu with four-fifths of the island’s area in the northern half and the remaining part of the island, Kunashiri, Shikotan and Habomai in the southern half.

A plan to split the total space of the four islands, seized by the Soviet Union in 1945, in half also surfaced during the administration of Prime Minister Taro Aso in 2008 to 2009.

Almost no progress has been made in talks on the row in recent years and Tokyo and Moscow remain far apart.

The Japanese government has maintained its position of seeking the return of all four islands, with Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga reiterating in his news conference Tuesday that negotiations will begin based on the understanding that they will all be returned to Japan.

Russia has opposed making compromises beyond the 1956 Japan-Soviet Joint Declaration, which states that two of the four islands, Shikotan and Habomai, which are much smaller in size, will be handed over to Japan after a peace treaty is signed.