MOSCOW – Russian President Vladimir Putin and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe agreed Monday to revive stalled talks on a peace treaty to formally end World War II hostilities between the two countries.
The two leaders instructed their foreign ministries to accelerate discussions of “mutually acceptable options” and voiced “determination” to use bilateral talks to bridge differences and sign a peace accord, according to a joint statement issued in Moscow.
Abe is using the first trip to Russia by a Japanese premier in 10 years to break an almost 70-year territorial dispute and win more access to energy resources. Putin said the two sides are “sincere” in seeking a diplomatic breakthrough and want to harness stronger economic ties to advance the talks.
“I’ll personally deal with this issue, which is the biggest unsolved question in relations between our countries, and will apply all my efforts to solve it,” Abe said in remarks translated into Russian.
Abe met Putin in the Kremlin midway through a three-day visit to discuss energy, trade and investment. The countries’ relationship has been hamstrung by a dispute over islands — known as the Northern Territories in Japan and Southern Kurils in Russia — that were seized by the Soviet Union in the final days of the war.
The first official visit by a Japanese premier since Junichiro Koizumi’s trip in 2003 follows rising tensions with China over East China Sea islands as Abe vowed last week to protect the territories by force if necessary. Visits by lawmakers to a Tokyo shrine viewed as a symbol of wartime aggression have further strained ties that are near their lowest level since bilateral relations were established in 1972.
“Relations between Japan and Russia are dominated by the China factor,” Fyodor Lukyanov, the editor of Russia in Global Affairs, a foreign policy magazine, said Friday. “Both countries are trying to balance China’s growth as the most important country in the region and this is leading to a thaw.”
Japan, the world’s third-biggest economy and the largest buyer of natural gas, is jostling with China for access to Russian energy riches. With China becoming more assertive in the region Japan and Russia are seeking a counterweight as they review their ties, Lukyanov said.