(Sankei: October 15, 2015 – p. 1)
The Russian government conveyed to Japan unofficially that it would be difficult to talk about the territorial negotiations between the two countries in public, a source informed Sankei on Oct. 14. The Russian side has shown willingness to engage in territorial talks, but it is not making this public for fear of a domestic backlash. The Japanese government has been working for a visit by President Vladimir Putin to Japan before yearend for summit-level talks to advance the territorial talks. Russia’s stance indicates that it is still very difficult to make any progress.
Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov held their first meeting in 19 months in Moscow in September, where they agreed to resume talks on signing a peace treaty. In a news conference held after the meeting, Kishida said that “in-depth discussions were held” on the Northern Territories issue. However, Lavrov contradicted him, claiming that “the Northern Territories issue was not discussed.” He added that “the topic on the agenda was the question of signing a peace treaty,” correcting Kishida’s statement.
According to a government source, the Russian side informed Japan after the news conference that “it would be difficult to say in a news conference that the Northern Territories issue was discussed.”
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and other senior officials have been visiting the four disputed northern islands recently. This is an indication that Russia intends to shelve the territorial issue but go ahead with talks on the peace treaty.
Japan is cooperating with the Western countries in their conflict with Russia over the Ukraine crisis. A diplomatic source notes that “Russia will not make known that it is engaging in amicable territorial talks at the foreign ministerial level with Japan, which is imposing sanctions on Russia with the G7.”
The Abe administration is hoping to resolve the issue of sovereignty over the Northern Territories to pave the way for signing a peace treaty through direct negotiations between the top leaders. A senior Foreign Ministry official points out that “the prerequisite for Mr. Putin’s visit to Japan is progress in the territorial talks.”
However, with Russia unable to disclose to the public that territorial talks are taking place, it will be difficult to make any progress with just a visit by Putin. Although Abe and Putin agreed to work for progress in bilateral talks at their meeting in New York in late September, they merely confirmed that they would try to determine the best time for Putin’s visit.