MOSCOW – Japan and Russia have agreed in principle that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Vladimir Putin should hold talks on the fringes of November’s summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Beijing, sources said.
With the government giving up on its plan to host Putin in Tokyo this fall, it is now set to hold fresh talks with Moscow to push for a visit by Putin next year, the sources said Friday.
The planned trip had become nearly impossible, as Washington asked Tokyo to postpone it because the U.S. and European nations slapped Russia with sanctions over the ongoing crisis in Ukraine. Japan has also participated in the sanctions against Russia.
The government is hoping that during the envisioned Abe-Putin meeting, the leaders can make progress on a long-standing dispute over the sovereignty of four Russian-held islands off Hokkaido.
Tokyo claims the islands, which were seized by the Soviet Union after Japan’s surrender in World War II on Aug. 15, 1945. The issue has prevented the two countries from signing a post-World War II peace treaty.
During telephone talks with Putin last Sunday, Abe proposed holding a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting from Nov. 10 to 11. Putin, in response, expressed his willingness to hold discussions without elaborating on their timing, a Japanese source said.
Russian presidential aide Yuri Ushakov told Russian media Friday that a meeting between Putin and Abe on the fringes of the APEC summit has not been ruled out.
The two leaders last held face-to-face talks in February in Sochi, Russia, when Abe attended the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics. They agreed then on Putin’s fall visit to Japan.
Ties between Tokyo and Moscow have since chilled after Japan’s sanctions against Russia over the Ukraine crisis were matched by the Kremlin’s announcement of sanctions against Japan.
During their summit talks in Beijing, Abe and Putin are also expected to discuss Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida’s trip to Russia, which has been postponed amid the Ukraine crisis. Tokyo is keen to use Kishida’s trip as an opportunity to formally invite Putin to visit Japan, according to the sources.
Russia’s ITAR-Tass news agency quoted Ushakov on Friday as saying, “The date of the visit has not been discussed by diplomatic channels.”
With tensions in Ukraine easing after a cease-fire agreement, Abe has set his eyes on advancing territorial negotiations with Russia. But the meeting with Putin could fail to materialize if the Ukraine situation reignites, and the United States and European nations step up pressure on Moscow.