All Saturday evening papers reported extensively on a Japan-Russia summit held in Sochi on Friday, during which President Putin accepted Prime Minister Abe’s proposal on seeking a resolution of the Northern Territories dispute through an “approach based on new ideas,” although the two leaders did not specify what steps they will take in adopting the new approach. Abe told the press after the summit: “President Putin and I agreed to resolve the dispute between us while building future-oriented bilateral ties.”
Yomiuri wrote that Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Seko, who accompanied Abe, told the press that although the premier made “in-depth” remarks on the dispute during the summit, Japan’s basic policy of confirming the sovereignty of the islands and concluding a peace treaty with Russia remains unchanged.
Abe and Putin reportedly agreed that the Japanese leader will visit Vladivostok in early September for another summit and that bilateral peace treaty talks will be held by the vice foreign ministers of the two nations starting in June. In the Sochi summit that lasted over three hours, including a 30-minute one-on-one session, Abe put forward an eight-point “cooperation package” that includes Japan’s support for Russian energy development, economic revitalization in the Russian Far East, and measures for improving the daily lives of Russian people. The two also agreed to continue discussing arrangements for a trip to Japan by Putin later this year.
In follow-up reports on Sunday, the papers wrote that Abe is keen to lay out a concrete roadmap for resolving the territorial dispute this year by holding a series of summits with Putin and offering measures to shore up the Russian economy, which appears to be Moscow’s foremost priority. The papers projected, however, that improvements in economic relations will not necessarily guarantee concessions by the Russian leader given that the strategic value of the disputed islands is increasing in view of deepened rivalry with the U.S. over Ukraine and other issues. Yomiuri quoted an unnamed senior GOJ official as saying: “I don’t think Mr. Putin will surrender the Northern Territories, which are important for national security, in return for economic incentives.” The dailies also expressed skepticism about Abe’s strong commitment to providing robust economic assistance for Russia since Japanese commercial enterprises may not share his enthusiasm.