Abe between rock and hard place after Putin nabs Crimea

by Reiji Yoshida

Staff Writer

Russia’s deployment of troops on the Crimean Peninsula in Ukraine put Japan in a difficult position Monday, as Tokyo, which has tried to build closer ties with Moscow, joined its Group of Seven counterparts to issue a statement strongly condemning Russia.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has tried to deepen Japan’s relationship with Russia in recent months, hoping to expand economic relations with the resource-rich nation and promote talks over the long-standing territorial row over the four Russian-held islands north of Hokkaido.

But the G-7 statement, jointly issued by Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Britain and the United States, condemned Russia for “clear violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.”

Asked whether Tokyo will keep expanding economic and political ties with Russia, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga ducked the question during a daily press briefing.

“Our country hopes all the parties involved will behave carefully with self-restraint and responsibility,” Suga said.

Since taking office in December 2012, Abe has held summit talks with Vladimir Putin five times, which is an unusually high number.