Putin meets Japan’s Abe to talk peace treaty, closer ties

Russia’s president is visiting Japan to discuss signing a peace treaty and expanding economic cooperation. However, a decades-old territorial dispute and Japan’s support for the Obama administration’s anti-Russian sanctions may stand in the way.

Vladimir Putin has arrived in Japan on Thursday to meet with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The two are to hold a series of talks at a mountainside inn at a hot springs resort called Nagato in Abe’s home constituency in southwest Japan. The Russian delegation and their Japanese hosts will move to the capital, Tokyo, on Friday.

Abe welcomed Putin, noting that he had last visited Japan over a decade ago.

“I am glad to have this opportunity to welcome you in my home city, Nagato. I wish you the opportunity to enjoy the beautiful nature of Japan, the good Japanese cuisine, and a dip into hot springs this evening,” the Japanese PM said, as cited by RIA Novosti. “A dip in a hot spring removes all fatigue. So, after the meeting, you will be able to rest in the spring,” he said.

Putin thanked his host, but joked that he thought it was preferable not to overwork.

In a gesture of recognition of the visit, schools in Nagato served Russian borscht and pirogi on Thursday, while visiting journalists were offered traditional Japanese rice snacks and green tea, Interfax news agency reported.

The visit is expected to end with agreements on closer economic and cultural cooperation, although there is little expectation of a breakthrough on the territorial dispute over four islands just north of Japan, which have been under Moscow’s administration since World War II.

The Kuril Islands stretch from Japan’s northernmost island, Hokkaido, to Russia’s Kamchatka peninsula. The entire archipelago is currently administered by Russia, which received it after World War II under the 1945 Potsdam Declaration. Japan claims sovereignty over the two southernmost large islands, Iturup and Kunashir, as well as the Shikotan and Habomai islets, citing their history as Japan’s northern territories.

The quarrel over the Kuril Islands has prevented the two nations from ever signing a formal peace treaty, leaving them technically in a state of ceasefire since the end of World War II. Abe has pledged to resolve the decades-old conflict and leave a diplomatic legacy that eluded his father as foreign minister.

Speaking to the Japanese media ahead of the visit, Putin said that Moscow and Tokyo should find a solution that is acceptable to both nations, but also expressed doubts about whether Japan would be willing to go far enough without upsetting the United States. Putin said that the fact that Japan decided to impose economic sanctions on Russia at the urging of the US had forced Moscow to have second thoughts on the matter.

READ MORE: Tokyo says no trade deals with Moscow in violation of international sanctions

Japan’s trade minister, Hiroshige Seko, said that any agreements on economic cooperation reached with Russia during Putin’s visit would not violate the sanctions regime.