Putin visit still on track, Suga says

Kyodo

Russian President Vladimir Putin is still expected to visit Japan this fall, the government said Monday, despite the ongoing row over disputed islands off Hokkaido and tensions over the conflict in Ukraine.

Last week, Putin expressed discontent that Japan is supporting the United States and European nations in imposing sanctions on Russia for its intervention in Ukraine.

However, the plans for Putin’s visit “have not been changed at all so far,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference. The top government spokesman also said Japan would continue its policy of attempting to resolve the territorial dispute and forging a peace treaty with Russia.

The two counties have been in talks over the group of Russian-held islands northeast of Hokkaido. The dispute over who owns the islands has prevented Japan and Russia from signing a World War II peace treaty.

On Saturday, Putin said he was surprised that Japan, along with Western countries, imposed sanctions over Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in March. The sanctions include travel bans and asset freezes targeting Russian government officials.

Putin told journalists in St. Petersburg that Japan has stalled the territorial talks, but he believes the two countries can reach a compromise on the issue.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Putin have met several times over the past year. Japanese officials say Abe aims to develop personal ties to help achieve a breakthrough in the negotiations. At a summit in February, they agreed that Putin would visit Japan this fall.

Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said in a Monday speech that Japan “must maintain political dialogue with Russia even though our relations are in a difficult situation over Ukraine.”

A specific schedule for Putin’s visit and for the next round of working-level talks on the territorial issue have yet to be fixed, a Japanese government source said.