National / Politics

Ex-prime minister Hatoyama defends referendum in Crimea as constitutional

Kyodo

Former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, visiting Crimea against Tokyo’s wishes, held talks Wednesday with leader Sergey Aksyonov in Simferopol, the peninsula’s main city, and said Japan should lift its sanctions against Russia.

According to media reports, Hatoyama expressed his view at the talks that Japan should “normalize” relations with Russia by lifting sanctions imposed for Moscow’s annexation of the Ukrainian territory — an act Japan does not recognize.

Hatoyama also reportedly said the Japanese government should wake up from its dream-like state and squarely face reality.

Hatoyama also told Russian media Thursday that he would not rule out accepting a proposal made Wednesday by the Russian presidential envoy to Crimea, Yuri Belaventsev, to move to the peninsula — should Japan deprive him of his passport.

“If such a danger emerges, I cannot rule out that I will accept Mr. Belaventsev’s proposal,” Hatoyama was quoted as saying by Tass news agency. “I am grateful for it.”

In Tokyo on Thursday, his brother Kunio Hatoyama, a Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker, said in a television program the former prime minister should have been deprived of his passport.

Meanwhile, Aksyonov slammed Japan’s sanctions against Russia and said he believes a politician like Hatoyama is needed to overcome the status quo, marked by Russia’s deteriorating economy, according to the reports.

Earlier in the day, Hatoyama said a controversial referendum last March that found a majority on the Crimean peninsula were in favor of joining Russia was in line with Ukraine’s Constitution.

Hatoyama told a news conference in Simferopol that the referendum was held peacefully and democratically in accordance with the Ukrainian Constitution, Russian news agency Interfax reported.

His remarks, widely seen as supporting Russia’s annexation of Crimea, is likely to draw fire because Japan does not recognize the outcome of the vote.

Japan and other Group of Seven nations — Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and the United States — condemned Russia’s annexation of Crimea last March, calling the action a “violation of international law.”

In the city of Yalta, Hatoyama told city officials that the referendum resolved the territorial issue with Russia, and that it was one of the most significant events in history, according to local news agency Kryminform.

The Japanese government had urged Hatoyama not to visit Crimea, saying that the act of a former prime minister conducting a trip requiring a Russian visa could contradict Tokyo’s stance that Moscow unilaterally annexed the territory in violation of international law.

In Tokyo, the government and the ruling Liberal Democratic Party condemned Hatoyama’s trip. Hatoyama was prime minister from September 2009 to June 2010, when the Democratic Party of Japan was in power for the first time.

“As a politician who experienced the post of prime minister, it was much too hasty an act. It is extremely regrettable,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a news conference about Hatoyama’s Tuesday visit to the Black Sea peninsula. “We would like to criticize him severely.”

LDP Vice President Masahiko Komura said the trip is “regrettable because it is incompatible with the Japanese position that it will never recognize any attempt to change the status quo by force.”

The visit “will give rise to misunderstanding in the international community,” Komura told reporters.