National / Politics

Putin unlikely to visit Japan by year-end due to territorial row

Kyodo

Japan and Russia are likely to shelve a planned visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin by year-end amid a lack of progress in territorial talks between the two countries, Japanese government sources said Wednesday.

“It will be difficult to realize (the visit). There is not much time left,” one of the sources said. Another source said Russia’s airstrikes in Syria, which have drawn criticism from the United States and Europe, have also made a visit within the year “tough.”

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Tokyo will continue to explore the possibility of a visit by the end of 2015 and “make preparations,” as agreed by Putin and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at their summit last November.

“We will find the best time, considering various factors comprehensively,” the top government spokesman said at a press conference.

Japanese and Russian deputy foreign ministers held talks last Thursday in Moscow for the first time since January 2014 but failed to make major progress on the territorial issue, the sources said.

The row over the Russian-held, Japanese-claimed islands off Hokkaido has prevented the countries from concluding a post-World War II peace treaty.

The four islands — Etorofu, Kunashiri and Shikotan as well as the Habomai group of islets — were seized by the Soviet Union following Japan’s surrender in the war on Aug. 15, 1945. They are called the Northern Territories in Japan and the Southern Kurils in Russia.

Even if Putin’s visit is postponed to next year, Abe is still expected to seek to realize it early in a bid to achieve a breakthrough in the territorial dispute.

Some members of the Japanese government and the ruling parties have said it would be better if the visit takes place before the Group of Seven summit to be held next May in Japan.

Russia was suspended from the Group of Eight following its annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in Ukraine last year.

Abe may meet with Putin in November on the sidelines of international conferences and discuss the president’s potential visit, the sources said.

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