National

Abe may meet Putin for informal talks next week in Italy

Kyodo

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is considering making informal contact with Russian President Vladimir Putin during the Asia-Europe Meeting summit in Milan, Italy, on Oct. 16 and 17, according to government sources.

Abe hopes that staying in touch with the Russian leader will help make progress on bilateral problems, while still allowing Japan to maintain solidarity with the United States and European Union over Russia’s involvement in the Ukraine conflict.

Some analysts say Putin, who faces stiff opposition from the West, hopes to strengthen relations with Japan.

One of the main issues between Tokyo and Moscow is a decades-long dispute over the sovereignty of four islands off Hokkaido that the Soviets seized in the closing days of World War II and which are still in Russian hands.

The two leaders expect to meet formally on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum summit in Beijing in November.

They have held five meetings since December 2012, when Abe’s current stint as prime minister began. When they last met, in February this year in Sochi, Russia, they agreed that Putin would visit Japan this fall.

But the trip was put off under heavy pressure by the United States — Japan’s closest military ally — over the war in Ukraine.

On Tuesday, Abe and Putin spoke by phone and confirmed plans to attend the ASEM summit, where they may discuss rescheduling Putin’s visit to Japan.