Russian President Vladimir Putin may visit Japan at the end of the year, with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s home prefecture of Yamaguchi possibly the venue for talks between the Russian and Japanese leaders, several sources linked to Japan-Russia relations said Thursday.
According to the sources, Abe invited Putin — during a bilateral meeting May 6 in Sochi on Russia’s Black Sea coast — to come in December to the southwestern prefecture.
Following the Sochi talks, Tokyo and Moscow set about coordinating a visit by Putin.
By holding the talks in Yamaguchi rather than in Tokyo, Japan wants to provide a relaxed environment for the leaders to make progress in resolving a decades-long row over the sovereignty of a group of islands off Hokkaido, according to the sources.
The disputed islands were seized by the Soviet Union following Japan’s surrender in August 1945. Consisting of Etorofu, Kunashiri, Shikotan and the Habomai islet group, the islands stretch northward off Hokkaido.
Abe has put bringing Putin to Japan at the top of his diplomatic agenda, reflecting his resolve to settle the island dispute before the end of his term. For his part, Putin has expressed a positive attitude toward visiting.
The success of the meeting is likely to hinge on whether a list of proposals for bilateral economic cooperation that Abe offered Putin in Sochi can convince the Russian leader to come to a compromise on the islands.
The leaders are expected to decide on the detailed schedule of the visit following their next bilateral talks planned for September in Vladivostok.
According to the sources, Abe is considering of holding the talks at a time-honored inn in Yamaguchi and take Putin for a tour around the prefecture in an effort to foster a friendly atmosphere.
Abe is also expected to propose a casual dress code for the summit, inspired by the productive 1998 meeting between then-Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto and Russian counterpart Boris Yeltsin at the Kawana seaside resort in Shizuoka Prefecture.
“If it goes ahead, (the choice of venue) could further deepen (Abe’s) relationship of trust with Putin,” a Japanese source connected to the plan said.
Putin was expected to visit Japan in 2014, but the trip was shelved following Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Ukraine, in March that year.
This December will mark the 60th anniversary of the 1956 Japan-Soviet Joint Declaration that restored bilateral diplomatic ties.
The declaration stipulates the Soviet Union will hand Shikotan and Habomai over to Japan upon the signing of a peace treaty, but such a treaty remains yet to be concluded.
“If Putin’s visit is set for December and encourages (the leaders) to get into the spirit of the anniversary, it could have a positive effect on the territorial negotiations,” a source said.
But despite such optimism in Japan, Moscow has yet to show signs of willingness to make a concession over the issue.
Local media reports suggest the Russian Defense Ministry is mulling the installation of military facilities, including shore-to-ship missile stations, on some of the disputed islands.
With the Ukraine crisis continuing to cast a shadow over Russia’s relations with Japan, the United States and European countries, Putin’s visit may be delayed according to future circumstances.
Washington has previously expressed concern over thawing Japan-Russia relations.