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Suga and Putin should build relationship of trust by meeting in person: Ishin Diet member

February 7 was “Northern Territories Day.” Since the Northern Territories (Etorofu, Kunashiri, Shikotan, and Habomai Islands) became Japanese territory on Feb. 7, 1855 under the Treaty of Shimoda signed by Japan and Russia, the islands have never belonged to any other nation. Russia continues to occupy the islands illegally even 75 years after the end of World War II. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has demonstrated eagerness to tackle the Northern Territories issue, saying “we need to resolve it.”  Sankei interviewed Nippon Ishin no Kai House of Councillors member Muneo Suzuki on how Japan should engage with Russia’s Putin administration.


Interviewed by Takaki Rikitake.


Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said in his policy speech on Jan. 18 that “the Northern Territories issue must be resolved instead of being passed on to future generations.” Suga also said that his understanding is based on the 2018 summit meeting between the Japanese and Russian leaders in Singapore, and that negotiations will proceed based on the agreement of both countries.


This made me feel that Suga is determined to resolve the issue himself. The fact that the “agreement” reached in Singapore, which concluded that negotiations would be accelerated based on the 1956 Japan-Soviet Joint Declaration, is now being referred to as a “discussion” has been seen as a regression by some people. I regard such views as criticism from people who are ignorant of the negotiations’ particulars.


On Aug. 31, 2020, then-Prime Minister Shinzo Abe held his final teleconference with Russian president Vladimir Putin. Abe went over every point from the Singapore meeting with Putin, confirming that they agreed on the individual points. Putin said “yes” to each one.


Immediately after Suga took office, he held a teleconference with Putin on Sept. 29, 2020. When Suga said that he would “maintain the Japanese-Russian relationship,” Putin was the one who said “the Singapore agreement (is important).” Not everything discussed during diplomatic negotiations can be revealed. The term “discussion” includes not only that which was made public, but everything that was negotiated between the two leaders.


When I met Suga on Feb. 1, he said he wants to “produce tangible results by moving in the direction that former Prime Minister Abe developed.” While it is still difficult for leaders to travel abroad due to the effects of COVID-19, it is necessary for Suga and Putin to meet once in person to create a relationship of trust.


The year 2021 is the 65th year since the signing of the Joint Declaration. It is an important juncture for Russia, which attaches importance to intervals of five years.


The wish of former residents of the Northern Territories, whose average age is now 85, is for Russia to return at least one or two islands as soon as possible. The only realistic solution is the “return of two islands plus alpha.” This solution combines the return of Habomai and Shikotan Islands in line with the Joint Agreement stipulating their return after signing a peace treaty, and freedom of travel and joint economic activity for the other two islands.

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