MOSCOW – Russia’s Foreign Ministry said Tuesday that talks with Japan over the disputed islands off Hokkaido will not be held this month as scheduled due to the addition Japanese sanctions over the crisis in Ukraine.
The postponement comes as an official visit to Japan by President Vladimir Putin eyed for the autumn looks increasingly unlikely following the fallout from the downing of a Malaysian Airlines passenger jet over eastern Ukraine last month.
A visit to Moscow by Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, initially planned for April, has also been deferred indefinitely do to the sanctions starting after Russia annexed Crimea in March.
Putin’s Japan visit was agreed to at a meeting between him and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Sochi, Russia, in February.
However, the Group of Seven major countries, including Japan, have imposed sanctions against Moscow for its involvement in the Ukrainian crisis.
In a statement issued Tuesday, the Russian ministry explained that given the Japanese sanctions, it is not appropriate to hold the scheduled talks now, but it stressed that Russia has not canceled the talks.
Abe and Putin agreed in April 2013 to resume territorial talks on the four Russian-held islands. Based on the agreement, talks between vice foreign ministers of the two countries were held in Moscow in August last year and in Tokyo last January.
In May, Putin said he was surprised that Japan imposed sanctions against Russia. But at the same time he signaled his readiness to proceed with the territorial talks, urging Japan to soften its stance.
In a July 29 statement, the Russian ministry warned Japan that its response to the Ukrainian situation will inevitably have a serious impact on overall bilateral relations.
Still, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said at a news conference the day before that he hoped Putin will visit Japan as scheduled.
The Japanese and Russian governments are examining the idea of basing postponement of Putin’s Japan trip on a bilateral agreement in order to pretend that their relations have not deteriorated, people familiar with the matter said.