National / Politics

Tokyo avoids criticizing Moscow over Ukraine issue ahead of talks on Russian-held islands off Hokkaido


Japan’s government has so far refrained from criticizing Russia over its recent firing on and seizure of Ukrainian naval ships by Russian coast guard vessels, ahead of the start of territorial negotiations with the Russian government.

At a news conference Tuesday, Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Kotaro Nogami said, “We hope that all the parties involved will exercise self-restraint and (that) the situation will calm down.” He stopped short of naming Russia.

The Kremlin warned Tuesday that Ukraine’s declaration of martial law over Russia’s seizure of three Ukrainian ships might trigger a flare-up in hostilities in eastern Ukraine, while Kiev blamed Russia for parading captured Ukrainian seamen on television.

Russia and Ukraine have blamed each other for Sunday’s confrontation in the Kerch Strait, which links the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov. The clash has raised the specter of renewing a full-blown conflict in eastern Ukraine, and has seen Russia strongly criticized at the United Nations by the United States and its allies.

The Ukrainian Parliament on Monday adopted a motion proposed by the president to impose martial law for 30 days. The move is something Ukraine had avoided, even when Russia annexed its nearby Crimean peninsula in 2014 or sent in clandestine troops and weapons to insurgents in the country’s war-torn eastern regions.

Tokyo’s position is to oppose any attempts to change the status quo by force, placing emphasis on freedom of navigation. But regarding the latest incident, which is highly likely to raise tensions between Russia and Ukraine, Nogami only referred to the importance of watching developments and concerns over a possible deterioration in the Ukrainian situation.

As the United States and European countries step up criticism against Russia, a senior Foreign Ministry official admitted that the Russian acts do represent an attempt to change the status quo by force.

But another senior government official showed reluctance for Japan to become involved in the problem, saying it is a faraway issue for this country.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin are slated to hold talks on the sidelines of the two-day summit of the Group of 20 advanced and emerging economies in Buenos Aires from Friday.

The two leaders agreed at a summit meeting in Singapore earlier this month to accelerate bilateral talks on a World War II peace treaty based on the 1956 Japan-Soviet joint declaration, which calls for the return of Habomais and Shikotan, two of the four Russian-held islands off Hokkaido, to Japan after the conclusion of a peace treaty.

The Singapore agreement will form the basis of the upcoming Abe-Putin talks.

As Abe is determined to maintain a good relationship with Putin, the Ukraine problem would have no impact on the Japan-Russia territorial negotiations, a government source said.