MILAN – Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin have agreed to continue bilateral dialogue during a brief meeting in Milan, Italy, on the sidelines of a summit of the Asia-Europe Meeting.
In their first face-to-face conversation since the start of the Ukraine crisis, Abe and Putin on Friday confirmed plans to hold a formal meeting during next month’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum summit in Beijing, according to Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroshige Seko.
“I place a great emphasis on Japan-Russia dialogue even in a difficult situation. We will take time during APEC and exchange opinions on both bilateral and global issues,” Abe was quoted by Seko as telling the Russian leader.
Abe is hoping for a breakthrough in a decades-old bilateral row over four Russian-held islands off Hokkaido that are claimed by Japan, while maintaining a unified stance with the United States and European nations over Russia’s actions in Ukraine, including its annexation of the southern region of Crimea in March.
During the two leaders’ 10-minute conversation at the ASEM summit, Abe urged Putin to fully implement a cease-fire in Ukraine. Putin replied that the process has been slowly progressing but that differences remain between Moscow and Kiev, Seko said.
Also on Friday, Putin held talks with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine. Afterward, Poroshenko indicated there had been some progress over disruption of Russian natural gas supplies to Ukraine, a former Soviet republic.
Abe and Putin have held formal meetings on five occasions since the prime minister took office in December 2012.
During their meeting in February in Sochi, Russia, the two agreed that Putin would visit Japan this fall. The trip, however, became difficult to realize due in part to opposition from the United States, Japan’s crucial security ally, over the ongoing crisis in Ukraine.