With the United States and Europe slapping additional sanctions on Russia over the downing of a commercial plane in Ukraine, there are growing views in Japan that a visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin to Tokyo this fall isn’t going to happen, government sources said.
“As the international community views Russia more severely, it is difficult to think that the two governments can lay the groundwork in the coming three to four months for Mr. Putin’s visit,” a Foreign Ministry source said Friday. “It is difficult to realize the visit in the fall.”
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government has attached great importance to Putin’s visit as part of efforts to advance negotiations on reacquiring the four Russian-held islands off Hokkaido taken near the end of the war. The dispute has prevented Tokyo and Moscow from concluding a formal peace treaty.
On July 19, Abe expressed hope of continuing dialogue with Putin despite criticism of Moscow over the downing two days earlier of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 in an area controlled by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.
But officials in Tokyo fear that pushing ahead with the visit will provoke the United States, which has taken a hard line against Russia on the issue.
Another source said the government also sees no prospect of Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida visiting Russia to pave the way for Putin’s trip. Kishida was initially set to go to Moscow in April until his trip was postponed in the wake of Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in March.
Asked about the plan for the Putin visit, Kishida said at a news conference Friday that “nothing has been decided.”
“Japan and Russia decided at a summit in February on a visit to Japan in the fall. But nothing has been decided since that,” he said.
Kishida made the remarks a day after the government said it would consider imposing additional sanctions on Russia in light of the plane’s downing, which killed all 298 people on board. It is still not clear who fired the missile that destroyed the aircraft, but U.S. and Ukrainian officials have blamed pro-Russia rebels.
Asked about the possibility of imposing additional sanctions, Kishida said Japan “would like to respond appropriately while ensuring coordination with (its counterparts in) the Group of Seven nations.”
On Thursday, Washington accused the Kremlin of sending more weaponry to pro-Russia separatists in Ukraine and of firing artillery from its territory into the nation.
“We have new evidence that the Russians intend to deliver heavier and more powerful, multiple rocket launchers to the separatist forces in Ukraine, and have evidence that Russia is firing artillery from within Russia to attack Ukrainian military positions,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters in Washington.