Sunday’s Nikkei published a prominent inside-page article on the complete absence of progress on the Northern Territories negotiations during President Putin’s visit to Japan last month, explaining that the Russian leader is strongly opposed to the reversion out of concern that Tokyo would be forced by Washington to build bases on the islands for the U.S. military. Putin is afraid that under such a scenario, the Russian Pacific fleet, including nuclear submarines, would be “contained” in the Sea of Okhotsk. Although the Japanese side has categorically dismissed the possibility of allowing U.S. troops to be stationed on the contested islets, Moscow suspects that Japan would give in to U.S. pressure.
In a related top story, Monday’s Yomiuri wrote that the GOJ is considering proposing to the Russian government that in addition to the existing chartered vessel arrangement, chartered flights be allowed between Hokkaido and the Northern Territories as a means to transport Japanese citizens born on the islands, journalists, and others under the “visa-free” visit program. The GOJ is hoping to finalize this transportation arrangement as early as this spring with the goal of launching the agreed-upon “joint economic activities” on the contested islets without delay.