(Tokyo Shimbun: January 1, 2016 – p. 29)
By Masaru Sato, writer and former MOFA chief analyst
I would like the government to achieve a drastic improvement in the Japan-Russia relationship in 2016. In light of the tension in the U.S.-Russia relationship at present, it is unlikely that President Vladimir Putin will make an official visit to Japan in the near future. However, since the chaos in the Middle East is certain to be protracted and there is a need to secure a stable energy supply, take counterterrorism measures against the Islamic State, and lay the groundwork for talks on the Northern Territories, Japan will need to engage Russia in concrete negotiations.
The most effective way to do so is through a summit meeting for building trust. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe should visit a Russian city other than Moscow for unofficial talks with Putin.
The reason for avoiding visiting Moscow is to prevent the trip from being construed as an official visit. No written agreement will be drafted. A candid exchange of views by Abe and Putin behind closed doors will help develop an outline of what the two countries need to work on together under the circumstances.
It is now practically impossible for Japan to mediate for Russia’s return to the G8 Summit. Japan is also unable to lift its sanctions on Russia in connection with the Ukraine issue. However, it will be possible to develop a mutually beneficial framework to secure a stable energy supply. This will help add momentum to the Northern Territories talks. (Slightly abridged)