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Say what you will about Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, he is a glutton for punishment. Too bad his bravado is not matched by canny discernment. Case in point is his plan to visit Russian President Vladimir Putin to follow up on the recent fiasco in Japan. In December, Abe came away from his 24 hours with Putin, his 16th face-to-face meeting, looking diminished and naive.

In the run up to the December hot-spring get-together, Team Abe raised hopes in Japan that there might be a possibility that Putin would return two of the four islands in the disputed Northern Territories, but reality set in when the Russians explained the lay of the land to Abe and his entourage at the November APEC Summit in Peru. Abe emerged from the meeting deflated, but put a brave face on matters by suggesting that progress on resolving the dispute requires an incremental approach. Over the next few weeks, both sides downplayed expectations for any breakthrough, but the recent tete-a-tete proved even more disappointing than anticipated.

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