All national dailies reported on Prime Minister Suga’s first teleconference with Russian President Putin on Tuesday. According to a GOJ briefing, the two leaders reaffirmed the agreement reached between former Prime Minister Abe and Putin in 2018 to accelerate negotiations on a peace treaty based on a 1956 joint declaration by Japan and the Soviet Union. The declaration stipulates that the Russian side will hand over two of the four Russian-held islands to Japan after the conclusion of a peace treaty. Suga and Putin agreed to seek a face-to-face meeting at an early date.
Suga reportedly told Putin during the 20-minute telephone conversation that he wants to advance Japan-Russia relations as a whole, including concluding a peace treaty, and put an end to the Northern Territories issue rather than put it off for the next generation to deal with. Putin reportedly said in response that he highly valued his relationship with Abe and is prepared to work constructively with Suga on bilateral and international issues. Suga told reporters afterward that he will negotiate persistently with Russia based on Japan’s basic policy of concluding a peace treaty by resolving the territorial issue. Yomiuri wrote that although Suga is planning to negotiate with Russia in line with Abe’s approach of seeking the return of the two islands first, no breakthrough is in sight in the stalled territorial talks. Asahi expressed a similar view saying that the prospects for resolving the territorial dispute with Russia are dim because Moscow is maintaining a hardline stance toward Tokyo.
The papers wrote separately that the Russian military announced on Tuesday that it has begun military exercises involving more than 1,500 troops on the Kuril Islands. Nikkei speculated that the announcement, which was made hours before the Suga-Putin talks, was intended to send a message to Japan. Chief Cabinet Secretary Kato told reporters that Japan has lodged a protest with Moscow through diplomatic channels over the drills in the region that includes the Northern Territories.