MOSCOW – Russian President Vladimir Putin told local media he will adhere to the country’s Constitution which was revised last year to bar the transfer of territory to a foreign power, indicating Moscow will not engage Tokyo in negotiations over the nations’ long-running territorial dispute.
But in his remarks, aired on a state-run television channel Sunday but made last Wednesday, Putin added he wants to “develop” ties with Japan despite his pledge to not “do anything that runs counter” to the Constitution.
It was the first time the Russian leader publically indicated he will not respond to Tokyo’s claims on four Russian-held islands based on constitutional amendments approved by a vote in July that include clauses banning the cession of territory.
The dispute over the islands has stood in the way of the nations signing a post-World War II peace treaty.
While the amendments do not apply to border demarcation, Putin told the editors-in-chief attending the meeting to ask Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov which parts of the nation are affected.
Tokyo reacted to Putin’s remarks Monday, with Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato stressing Japan’s stance on the territorial dispute is unchanged.
“We would like to continue our tenacious effort under our basic policy of resolving the territorial issue and signing a peace treaty,” Kato told a press conference.
He also added that Putin and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga confirmed in a September phone call they would accelerate negotiations toward a peace treaty based on a 1956 joint declaration between the two countries.
Tokyo has long sought the return of the four islands off the Hokkaido coast it calls the Northern Territories. The islands were seized by the Soviet Union following Japan’s surrender in 1945 and are called the Southern Kurils by Russia.
Before Putin’s remarks, Dmitry Medvedev, the deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council and former president, said on Feb. 1 the constitutional revision has made discussions with Japan over the territorial dispute impossible.