The Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe was in Russia on Friday 6th May. Official sources of both countries confirm that Abe met with the Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi and discussed issues of considerable importance including that of the disputed ‘Kuril Islands’. Both countries have shown willingness to view this issue in particular, with a renewed perspective. This is the Japanese Prime Minister’s first visit to Russia following the sanctions against Russia owing to the Ukraine issue.
Over the week prior to this visit, the Japanese PM was on a visit to Europe and it was believed that he would be visiting Russia during this time, which information had been confirmed by the ministers for foreign affairs of both nations. Moreover, Abe’s visit assumes significance given Russia’s strained relations with the US on the one hand and its increasingly close ties with China on the other.
Also, Russia and Japan have as yet not signed any peace treaty to formally end hostilities of the Second World War. Japan has staked its claim to all the four islands of the Kuril Island region that the Russian forces annexed after the Second World War. Russia however, has agreed to concede only two of the four islands and had earlier even announced the installation of sophisticated missile systems on these islands leading once again to tension in the relations between the two nations.
In the light of the above, the Japanese PM’s meeting with the Russian President Putin is indeed significant. In 2013 Abe visited Russia and became the first Japanese PM to visit this country in the decade that went by. But after Russia’s intervention in Crimea, Abe had, supporting the west, imposed sanctions on Russia.
Despite Japan’s sanctions the past year signalled a fair ebbing of strains between the two nations. Russia too on its part had indicated that it was aware of the importance of Japan’s co-operation in the matter of developing its regions in the extreme east. The Russian President had pronounced that Japanese companies could feel free to make investments in Russia. As part of the discussions that took place on Friday, the Japanese Prime Minister presented a special eight point plan for co-operation between the two nations.
The points that the plan includes are the development of Russia’s eastern regions, co-operation relating to fuel, aid in improving the health sector, to name a few. Russian official sources have revealed that Putin too has proposed the bolstering of ties in the trade and economic fields with Japan. Both nations have assured that the Kuril Island dispute will not stand in the way of co-operation between Russia and Japan.
The US had expressed vehement objection to the Japanese PM’s visit to Russia. President Obama had in fact been quite open about his disapproval. The fact that Abe decided to visit Russia in any case, is truly noteworthy. Meanwhile, given Russia’s growing friendship with China, some political analysts express surprise at Abe’s visit to Russia.