Russia's Putin Says 'Painstaking Work' Remains Before Peace Deal With Japan
By RFE/RL January 22, 2019
Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that "painstaking work" remains before Russia can conclude a peace treaty with Japan to formally end World War II.
A settlement that negotiators would propose must be "supported" by the public, Putin also said in Moscow on January 22 following talks with the Japanese prime minister on a decades-old territorial dispute that has prevented Moscow and Tokyo from signing a peace agreement.
Standing alongside Putin, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said that he and the Russian president had confirmed their determination to find a solution to the dispute over the four southernmost islands in the Kuriles chain, which runs from Hokkaido in Japan to Russia's Kamchatka Peninsula.
Soviet troops seized the islands between the Sea of Okhotsk and the Pacific Ocean during the final days of World War II.
Tokyo's refusal to recognize Moscow's sovereignty there is an issue that has stalled the peace process since the 1950s.
The islands are known in Russia as the Southern Kuriles and in Japan as the Northern Territories.
Putin and Abe met at the Kremlin for about two hours of face-to-face talks that were followed by a broader meeting including more officials from the two countries, the TASS news agency reported.
In prepared remarks to reporters after their talks, Putin and Abe both spoke of their resolve to try to find a solution to the dispute between their countries, but they offered few specifics on whether the sides were close to reaching an agreement.
"Ahead of us lies painstaking work to create the conditions for us to arrive at a mutually acceptable solution," Putin said.
"Of course, solutions proposed by negotiators should be acceptable for the peoples of Russia and Japan, supported by the societies of both our countries," he added.
Putin also confirmed that Moscow was still interested in building the negotiating process on a 1956 Soviet proposal to return the two less populated islands, Shikotan and a group of islets called Habomai.
The Japanese leader said that the two countries' foreign ministers were set to meet in February to pursue talks about a possible deal.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov later said that it was necessary for the sides to "enhance the atmosphere of mutual trust," which he said will make it possible to "make progress" on the territorial dispute.
Ahead of the meeting, Putin told Abe that diplomats on both sides had "worked a lot...on the issues surrounding the peace agreement," while Abe responded that he was interested in developing ties and added, "I would like to have a through discussion on the peace treaty."
Despite an autumn agreement to intensify negotiations, the Kremlin has played down the prospects of quickly resolving the dispute.
Peskov said on January 21 that neither Russia nor Japan would abandon their national interests, adding that "the talks are in their initial stage" and would likely be a "drawn-out" process.
"We urge everyone to be realistic and to proceed from the fact that we must seek a solution with constant respect for the national interests of the two countries," Peskov said. "No one is going to give ground on their national interests."
The Kremlin spokesman declined to comment on a report by Japan's Kyodo news agency quoting unnamed government sources in Tokyo who said Abe planned to propose signing a peace treaty if Moscow hands back control of two of the disputed islands.
Yoshihide Suga, Abe's chief cabinet secretary, said on January 22 that the Japanese government hopes Abe's talks with Putin will be constructive.
Suga said he wanted to refrain from making "any forecasts" about the Moscow talks.
"At the same time, Prime Minister Abe said that he intends to facilitate talks on the peace treaty as much as possible," Suga said. "We are expecting a constructive dialogue."
Three of the disputed islands are inhabited while the fourth, Habomai, is actually a group of islets where only a Russian border patrol is present.
The idea of Moscow ceding any territory to Japan in exchange for a peace deal is not popular in Russia.
Several protests have been held in Russian cities in recent weeks, including a demonstration in Moscow on January 20, a day before Abe's arrival in the Russian capital for the talks.
About 100 nationalists and leftists protested outside the Japanese Embassy in Moscow ahead of the talks and 11 of them were detained, opposition politician Sergei Udaltsov said.
Udaltsov said the detainees were members of his Left Front organization and the Communist Party, and that three of them had been released after the group was taken to a police station.
A survey conducted in November by independent Russian pollster Levada Center suggested 74 percent of Russians oppose exchanging some of the islands for a peace deal, while 17 percent would support such an exchange.
With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, Kyodo, Interfax, and TASS
Copyright (c) 2019. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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