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Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is considering giving up a plan to visit Russia to attend a ceremony on May 9 to mark the 75th anniversary of the former Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany in World War II, Jiji Press learned Wednesday.

Abe may skip the ceremony as prior consultations between Tokyo and Moscow have been stalled due to the global coronavirus pandemic, Japanese government sources said.

Through talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Abe aims to break the deadlock in Japan-Russia negotiations over four disputed Russian-held islands off the coast of Hokkaido. But the viral outbreak is affecting the Japanese leader’s diplomatic schedule.

Many world leaders have been invited to the May 9 ceremony in Moscow.

Abe had been positive about attending the ceremony in order to hold his first meeting with Putin since September last year.

The Japanese leader plans to make a final decision while monitoring the virus situation. Still, a visit in May seems very difficult, one source said.

In a meeting in February, Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi asked his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, to visit Japan this spring. Due to the coronavirus crisis, however, a schedule for the visit has not been fixed yet.

Many believe that it will be difficult for Abe to make progress on the territorial row even if he visits Russia in May. “The Japan-Russia relationship will remain in a wait-and-see mode for the time being,” said a source in the Japanese Foreign Ministry.

The four islands were seized by the Soviet Union from Japan at the end of World War II and are still claimed by Japan. The dispute has prevented Tokyo and Moscow from concluding a peace treaty to bring a formal end to their wartime hostilities.

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