TOKYO/VLADIVOSTOK, RUSSIA – Prime Minister Shinzo Abe set off Wednesday for a three-day trip to Russia, where he
plans to meet with President Vladimir Putin and attend the Eastern Economic Forum, an annual gathering intended to boost investment in the Russian Far East.
During his stay in Vladivostok, Abe will also meet with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Mongolian President Khaltmaa Battulga, both of whom are also scheduled to attend the regional forum event.
In the meeting with Putin, Abe intends to move peace treaty talks forward — despite scant hopes for major progress.
“I hope to talk frankly with President Putin to take our peace treaty negotiations to the next level,” Abe told reporters at the Prime Minister’s Office before setting off for Russia.
His meeting with Putin on Thursday is set to be the highlight of the trip, with the focus on moving toward resolving a long-standing territorial dispute over Russian-held islands off Hokkaido.
Abe and Putin agreed last year to advance talks toward signing a postwar peace treaty, but rounds of negotiations, including at the working level, have failed to bridge the wide gap between the two countries over the territorial issue.
The dispute over the islands, collectively known as the Northern Territories in Japan and the Southern Kurils in Russia, has stood in the way of Tokyo and Moscow signing a postwar peace treaty.
Abe and Putin have agreed to promote joint economic activities on the islands, with a pilot tour of two of the disputed islands — Kunashiri and Etorofu — planned for October.
In his first face-to-face meeting with the Russian leader since June, Abe is also expected to encourage Putin to engage in dialogue with Europe, Japanese officials said, after Group of Seven leaders, who gathered in France last week, discussed the divisive topic of Russia’s return to the framework. Russia was dropped after its 2014 annexation of Crimea.
Since returning to power in 2012, Abe has been seeking to forge close ties with Putin and the forthcoming summit will be their 27th meeting. The prime minister has attended the economic forum every year since 2016.
Meanwhile, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov said Tuesday that he expects no breakthrough at an upcoming summit with Japan, according to the ITAR-Tass news agency.
Morgulov told reporters that the two countries’ positions significantly differ, although he added that Moscow will continue dialogue with Tokyo, the report said.
Before meeting with Putin, Abe will hold talks with Modi on Thursday in the hope of expanding bilateral cooperation and laying the groundwork for his visit to India, possibly by the end of the year.
Abe will also seek Mongolia’s support for resolving the issue of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s, during a meeting with Battulga the same day. Mongolia has diplomatic ties with North Korea, but Japan does not.