Anticipation is building that a breakthrough could finally be achieved in the territorial dispute between Japan and Russia. After more than 70 years of disagreement over the status of the Northern Territories (the Southern Kurils in Russian), there is now widespread hope in Japan that an outline deal could be agreed when President Vladimir Putin meets Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Yamaguchi Prefecture on Dec. 15.

This optimism has been generated by Abe's announcement of a "new approach" to relations with Russia. Unveiled in Sochi in May, this policy includes the proposal for a major increase in economic cooperation in eight areas, including health care, energy and urban development. The calculation is that, taking advantage of Russia's current economic difficulties, these upfront incentives will induce concessions and make possible the signing of a territorial deal and related peace treaty.

At least in its initial stages this "new approach" has performed well as the Russian side has responded enthusiastically to the offer of increased investment and Putin has reiterated his desire to end the territorial dispute. The talks to be held at the Yamaguchi summit are therefore unquestionably important. What sort of deal, however, will each leader be seeking and what are the prospects of success?