National / Politics

Abe meets with Ukraine president, vows to raise Crimea issue at G-7 summit

by Ayako Mie

Staff Writer

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko in Tokyo on Wednesday and reaffirmed that Japan is committed to resolving the crisis in Crimea, adding that it will bring the issue to the Group of Seven summit next month.

The prime minister’s comments allude to Japan’s need to keep relations with the United States balanced, even as Abe hopes to make an unofficial visit to Russia in May to make progress on a territorial dispute.

At the joint news conference, Abe said Japan urged Ukraine to fully implement the Minsk agreement. The original Minsk cease-fire deal was reached between Ukraine and Russia in September 2014, six months after Moscow annexed Crimea. But it failed within days of the signing with the resumption of sporadic clashes.

The two countries agreed on a new Minsk cease-fire deal last February.

Abe also requested that Poroshenko proceed with domestic reforms. In return, he said Japan will continue with plans to send about $1.9 billion in an economic package he promised last April when he became the first Japanese prime minister to visit Ukraine. During the visit, Abe urged Ukraine to fully observe the agreement.

“I understand that there is a lot to deal with in Crimea,” Abe said during talks Wednesday with the Ukrainian leader. “But I believe President Poroshenko is the one who can push through the reforms.”

The meeting came four days before the G-7 foreign ministers’ meeting in Hiroshima and more than one month before the G-7 summit. Russia has been kicked out of the framework since it annexed Crimea in 2014. Abe promised to bring the Crimean issue to the G-7 summit.

“I would like to show my gratitude that the Crimea issue will be one of the themes to be discussed during the G-7 summit,” said Poroshenko.

“Japan and Ukraine agreed not to tolerate unilateral action to change the status quo by force, which is a violation of the international law,” said Poroshenko after the summit talk. “I appreciate that Japan voiced its position on Russia’s illegal occupation of Crimea.”

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the nuclear accident at Chernobyl and five years since a massive earthquake and tsunami struck Japan, triggering the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

Abe also pledged to fund €3.5 million to deal with spent fuel at Chernobyl. Poroshenko, meanwhile, announced that 2017 will be “Japan year” in his country, to mark the 25th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations.

The amicable atmosphere underlines Japan’s resolve to send a strong message against Russia’s annexation of Crimea and Abe’s desire to create momentum to solve the disputed territorial issue over what Japan calls the Northern Territories, also claimed by Russia, where they are called the Kuril Islands.

Showing Japan’s commitment to Ukraine is critical, especially when the U.S. is not satisfied with Japan’s approach to Russia.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will visit Japan and meet with Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida next week. The two ministers are likely to lay the groundwork for Abe’s unofficial visit to Russia in May.

Russian newspaper Izvestia on Wednesday reported that Abe will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin on May 6 in Sochi, quoting diplomatic sources.