Russian President Vladimir Putin said he is surprised that Tokyo slapped sanctions on Moscow over the Ukraine crisis and questioned whether Japan is ready to hold negotiations over four disputed islands off Hokkaido, Interfax news agency reported.
Putin made the remarks to the media in St. Petersburg, according to Interfax. In step with its Group of Seven partners, Japan imposed sanctions on Russia after it annexed Crimea.
The president was quoted as saying that it surprised him to know Japan joined sanctions on Russia and that he is not sure whether Japan has suspended the negotiations over the four Russian-held isles.
But Putin said at the same time that Moscow is ready for the territorial negotiations, and that the two countries could still reach a compromise over the long-running dispute if they follow the spirit of “hikiwake,” a Japanese sports term for a draw.
Putin said the sovereignty of two of the disputed isles, Shikotan and the Habomai islets, is on the agenda for bilateral talks because the 1956 Japan-Soviet Joint Declaration did not address the issue.
Putin has shown a willingness to visit Japan as early as this fall at the invitation of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. However, the plan may be affected by strains over Crimea.
The disputed islands — Etorofu, Kunashiri, Shikotan and the Habomai islet group, which in Russia are known as the Southern Kurils — were seized by the Soviet Union following Japan’s surrender in World War II on Aug. 15, 1945. The subsequent sovereignty row has prevented the two countries from signing a formal peace treaty.