By Akira Kurita in Moscow
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stated in an interview with the state-run TV station that aired on Feb. 12 that “Russia has an adequate special economic zone system, so it is not necessary to create a system beyond national boundaries” for the joint economic activities in the Northern Territories planned by Japan and Russia. He thus expressed a negative view on Japan’s demand for a “special system” that does not infringe on either countries’ sovereignty. The Russian foreign ministry published the full text of this interview.
Japan and Russia are currently engaged in negotiations on concrete plans for the joint economic activities ahead of a summit meeting between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Vladimir Putin in May. Japan is demanding a new legal framework because adopting Russian laws would amount to recognizing Russian sovereignty over the Northern Territories.
The Russian government created a special economic zone on Shikotan Island in the Northern Territories last August that offers special treatment to companies investing there. It is believed that Lavrov’s statement indicated that he thinks the Japanese side can use this special zone system.
Lavrov also stressed in the interview that “the Japan-U.S. relationship is an important consideration” with regard to signing a Japan-Russia peace treaty. He expressed concern that if the Northern Territories are returned to Japan, “the U.S. will be able to build military bases anywhere in Japan,” revealing that this issue has been discussed several times by the two leaders.