MOSCOW - Russia has stiffened its stance against advancing talks with Japan on a peace treaty, calling Tokyo’s security alliance with the United States a threat and an impediment to improving bilateral ties, diplomatic sources said Saturday.
The position apparently reflects Russia’s deteriorating relations with the United States over Washington’s decision to withdraw from a Cold War-era nuclear arms control treaty.
It is a setback for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who is seeking to resolve a decades-old territorial dispute with Moscow over three islands and a group of islets off Hokkaido and sign a broad agreement on a postwar peace treaty in June when Russian President Vladimir Putin is due to visit Japan for the Group of 20 summit.
Russia has been increasingly looking at the U.S.-Japan alliance as a major negative factor for Japan-Russia ties and has requested that Tokyo not side with the United States in imposing economic sanctions on it, the sources said.
Abe and Putin agreed in November to accelerate peace treaty talks based on a 1956 joint declaration which mentions the transfer from Moscow to Tokyo of Shikotan and the Habomai islet group — once a peace pact is concluded.
But their talks have made little progress as deep divisions remain over the territorial dispute, with Russia stressing that Japan must recognize the acquisition by Moscow of the four islands as the outcome of World War II, while Tokyo maintains the islands were illegally seized by the Soviet Union following Japan’s 1945 surrender.
The feud over the islands, called the Northern Territories in Japan and the Southern Kurils in Russia, has prevented the conclusion of a peace treaty to formally end World War II.
Russia has already aired concerns about Japan’s security alliance with the United States, citing the possibility that the U.S. military may be deployed in the territories if they are to be handed to Japan.
It also opposes Japan’s plan to install a U.S. land-based Aegis Ashore missile defense system that could be used to attack Russia. Tokyo has said the deployment is to counter the threat posed by North Korean missiles.
According to the Russian Foreign Ministry, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov expressed wariness about Japan maintaining close ties with the United States in an interview with Chinese and Vietnamese media last month, saying Washington has declared Russia as “its main adversary.”
Japan’s military alliance with the United States gives Washington “the right to deploy its armed forces anywhere in Japan and they are already deploying their missile defense system there, which creates risks for both Russia and China,” Lavrov said.
“It would be a mistake to ignore the fact that, contrary to the declared goal, this actually worsens the quality of our relations (with Japan),” he said in the interview.
U.S. President Donald Trump said in early February the United States is withdrawing from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty struck in 1987 that banned the development and possession of land-based missiles with ranges of between 500 and 5,500 kilometers (310 to 3,410 miles).
The announcement raised concerns about a new arms race.