The government is considering inviting Russian President Vladimir Putin to visit Japan in December as part of efforts to make progress on a long-standing territorial row, government sources said.
To pave the way, the government wants to send Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida to Russia in September, the sources said. Putin and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe agreed last November in Beijing to begin preparations for Putin to visit Japan at a “suitable time” this year.
One source said Tuesday the government is looking at December because diplomatic schedules make it impossible to arrange an earlier visit, while other sources said time is needed to negotiate with Russia to realize Putin’s visit and to gain U.S. acceptance.
Washington has urged Tokyo to help isolate the Putin government over Russia’s annexation of Crimea in southern Ukraine in March last year. Japan, the United States and European nations imposed economic sanctions on Russia over the matter.
At the just-concluded Group of Seven summit in Germany, the leaders of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States issued a declaration saying sanctions on Russia should be linked to its complete implementation of a Ukraine cease-fire agreement struck in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, in February.
Pressure to continue to isolate Russia has put Japan in a difficult position, as Tokyo wants to resume negotiations with Moscow over ending a territorial dispute that has prevented the countries from ever signing a peace treaty after World War II and restricted ties for 70 years.
The dispute involves the islands of Kunashiri, Etorofu and Shikotan as well as the Habomai islets, seized by the Soviet Union following Japan’s surrender in the war on Aug. 15, 1945.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu ordered the speeding up of construction of military and civilian infrastructure on the islands on Monday, two days after Abe held talks with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in Kiev.
To set the stage for Putin’s Japan trip, the sources said the two countries are making arrangements for their vice foreign ministers to meet for talks possibly in August.
The plan is to first send Deputy Foreign Minister Shinsuke Sugiyama, who is in charge of negotiations related to the dispute over the ownership of four Russian-held, Japanese-claimed islands off Hokkaido, they said.
With Kishida’s envisioned visit in September, which would include meeting his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, and other officials, the Japanese government hopes to speed up work to prepare for Putin’s Japan trip, the sources said.
The sources said Abe-Putin talks could also take place on the fringes of upcoming international conferences such as the Group of 20 summit in Turkey and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum summit in the Philippines, both in November.
But Putin’s Japan trip can still be delayed should tensions over the Ukrainian issue heighten and put a further strain on relations between Russia and the G-7, the sources said.