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Japan might ask Russian President Vladimir Putin to visit in 2019 to discuss isle row

Kyodo

The government is considering inviting Russian President Vladimir Putin to Japan around May 2019 in the hope of making progress in resolving a decades-long territorial row, government sources said Friday.

Putin last visited Japan in December 2016. That trip was played up as a potential turning point in the row over the sovereignty of a chain of Russian-held, Japanese-claimed islands off Hokkaido but resulted in little tangible change.

Putin is expected to visit Japan next year in any case to take part in the Group of 20 leaders’ summit. The date has not yet been announced.

The plan for the invitation assumes Putin will win the Russian presidential election in March.

Tokyo is increasingly of the mind that the territorial issue “must be moved along while Putin, who has stable domestic support, remains in power,” a government source said.

The leaders agreed during Putin’s last visit to begin talks on carrying out joint economic projects on the islands in a way that would not compromise either country’s legal position on their sovereignty.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe apparently hopes his own trip to Russia in May this year, combined with a visit by Putin next year, could lead to the start of the joint projects.

But the question of whether economic cooperation will actually help resolve the sovereignty row, which has prevented Japan and Russia from signing a peace treaty to formally end WWII, remains.

Abe is expected to convey the invitation to Putin during his visit to Russia.

According to the sources, the prevailing idea in Japan is to invite Putin on a date separate from the G-20 summit for purely bilateral purposes. The sources said Abe is also seeking to secure separate talks with Putin about the islands by attending this year’s Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok from Sept. 6 to 7, as he has done in previous years.

Japanese officials will also discuss with their Russian counterparts the possibility of holding bilateral talks on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum summit in Papua New Guinea in mid-November and this year’s G-20 summit in Argentina at the end of that month, the sources said.