Russian President Vladimir Putin appears to be more open than ever to a compromise with Japan that would end the two countries' post-World War II territorial dispute. Both sides have been making tentative moves toward reconciliation since May, and a deal may finally be in the works after decades of false starts.

In a recent interview, Putin explained why Russia and Japan haven't come to an agreement: "We are talking about finding a solution under which neither side will feel put upon, neither side will feel like a winner or a loser."

That's the tough part: Russia, where pride about victory in World War II is one of the pillars of national identity, would have to give up a bit of territory to end the dispute with Japan. Even Putin's predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, whose government desperately needed Japanese investment and who was on first-name terms with Japan's Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto, could not force himself to part with any of what Moscow calls the South Kuril Islands — just off Hokkaido — that were seized by the Soviet Union when Japan capitulated in 1945.