Putin heads for talks on dis­pute

Hope is scant that both lead­ers can fi­nally ham­mer out dif­fer­ences over the Kuril Is­lands

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD - By AGENCE FRANCEPRESSE in Moscow

Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin was sched­uled to head to Ja­pan on Thurs­day to meet Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe in the lat­est bid to reach an elu­sive deal on a ter­ri­to­rial dis­pute that has pre­vented their na­tions sign­ing a for­mal treaty to end World War II.

Abe will host Putin at the hot springs in his an­ces­tral city of Na­gato in the hope of break­ing the ice on an agree­ment over the Kuril Is­lands, seized by Soviet troops in 1945 and de­manded back by Tokyo ever since.

But de­spite months of prepara­tory ne­go­ti­a­tions, hope is scant that the lead­ers can fi­nally ham­mer out the dif­fer­ences over the four is­lands — known as the South­ern Kurils in Rus­sia and the North­ern Ter­ri­to­ries in Ja­pan — dur­ing Putin’s first visit in more than a decade.

“The ab­sence of a peace treaty be­tween Rus­sia and Ja­pan is an anachro­nism in­her­ited from the past and this anachro­nism should be elim­i­nated,” Putin said in an in­ter­view with Ja­pan’s Nip­pon TV and Yomi­uri news­pa­per pub­lished on the Krem­lin’s web­site on Tues­day. “But how to do this is a dif­fi­cult ques­tion.”

Putin added that Rus­sia would strive to con­clude the treaty be­cause it wants the “full nor­mal­iza­tion” of its re­la­tions with Ja­pan.

Putin’s two-day trip, in­clud- ing a fo­rum in Tokyo, has been long in the pipe­line and fol­lows two vis­its by Abe to Rus­sia this year — one to the Black Sea re­sort of Sochi and an­other in Septem­ber to the far­east­ern city of Vladi­vos­tok.

Abe has looked to eke out con­ces­sions on the Kurils by dan­gling the prospect of ma­jor Ja­panese in­vest­ment in front of Moscow, still mired in eco­nomic cri­sis.

“This new ap­proach is very bold,” said James Brown, as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor in po­lit­i­cal science at Tem­ple Uni­ver­sity, Ja­pan. “He is de­ter­mined to try to make a break­through.”

Mes­sage of strength

But few be­lieve that Putin is likely to cave in to Ja­panese de­mands to hand back at least some con­trol over the is­lands.

In the runup to the meet­ing, of­fi­cials have been care­ful to roll back any ex­pec­ta­tion of a deal.

“It’s not sim­ple to bring the two sides’ po­si­tions closer,” Rus­sian For­eign Min­is­ter Sergei Lavrov said after meet­ing his Ja­panese coun­ter­part Fu­mio Kishida this month.

And while Tokyo might have been hop­ing that the mood could be chang­ing, Rus­sia point­edly fired off a timely mes­sage of strength ahead of Putin’s visit by bol­ster­ing its might on the Kurils.

Last month, Moscow re­port­edly de­ployed coastal de­fense mis­siles to two of the four is­lands, height­en­ing Ja­panese anger al­ready piqued by the con­struc­tion of two mod­ern mil­i­tary com­pounds.

The meet­ing be­tween Putin and Abe is just the lat­est at­tempt to draw a line fi­nally un­der World War II since Ja­pan and the Soviet Union be­gan talks in 1956.

Ex­perts view re­cent rap­proche­ment ef­forts as a pos­i­tive de­vel­op­ment for Moscow’s trade ties with a stal­wart US ally but doubt that ei­ther side will budge on the ter­ri­to­rial is­sue.

Bi­lat­eral trade fell last year by 31 per­cent to $21.3 bil­lion, in part due to Ja­pan sign­ing up to West­ern sanc­tions against Moscow over Ukraine.

PROP­ERTY SPE­CIAL It’s not sim­ple to bring the two sides’ po­si­tions closer.” Sergei Lavrov, Rus­sian for­eign min­is­ter after meet­ing his Ja­panese coun­ter­part Fu­mio Kishida this month.

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