By Itsuro Nakamura, professor at the University of Tsukuba
In their joint press statement, neither Prime Minister Shinzo Abe nor Russian President Vladimir Putin even mentioned the word “territory” and they offered no path forward for the resolution of the Northern Territories issue. According to the Russian media, the Russian side was hoping that Japan would give up the islands of Kunashiri and Etorofu on the precondition that the two islands [of Habomai and Shikotan] were returned but no progress was made because the Japanese side did not indicate it would give up two of the islands. It is thought that domestic arrangements in Japan had not been completed in time, but the impression is that Russia saw Japan’s weak situation. This is likely greatly influenced by the fact that the Japan-U.S. alliance no longer carries weight since the Trump administration took office in the United States.
It is also worrisome that it was hinted that Japan is responsible for the lack of progress in economic cooperation. Japanese companies would like to participate, but currently there are big risks, including opaque customs procedures. There is no talk of improving the business environment, and the overall impression is that Russia has Japan twisted around its little finger.