Abe-Putin Summit in Moscow: No Sensations, Moderation Prevails

The latest Russian-Japanese summit brought back the everyday tonality to the discussion over the territorial issue after a surge of hype in the media and the public in both countries in December-January. Both Russian President Vladimir Putin and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe showed moderation in their final press statements, refraining from harsh language and unrealistic promises. The Russian side negatively perceived a series of publications in the Japanese media, considering them as a public pressure. The lack of information on the negotiations progress after the 25th Putin-Abe summit is not a surprise - it is rather a correction of the preceding media hype. Even the number counting of these meetings in the Japanese media (which is practically not conducted in relation to Abe’s meetings with other foreign leaders) indicates that they are still getting used to the new intensity of bilateral interaction between Russia in Japan.

It is noteworthy, that the parties confirmed their readiness to continue negotiations on the territorial issue on the basis of the 1956 Joint Declaration, marking thereby the seriousness of Tokyo’s intentions to soften its previous position, which was maintained for decades. Another new potential approach was voiced in the Japanese media with reference to diplomatic sources: the possibility to include in the peace treaty an article on mutual abstention from hostile military policies towards each other.

Russia-Japan Dialogue: The Sanctions Factor
Ivan Timofeev
The invigoration of dialogue between Moscow and Tokyo has again raised the question of the prospects for concluding a peace treaty. Both countries see the intensification of trade and economic cooperation as one of the goals of their negotiations. Japan’s diplomacy implies by default that solving the so-called “territorial issue” will create new conditions for commercial relations between the two countries.
Expert Opinions

This option looks like a step from Tokyo in response to Moscow’s concern over the scenario of a possible US military presence on the islands in the event of any new territorial arrangements. The success of such a step is hard to predict due to the unpredictability of its practical implementation, as well as its harmonization with the Japanese-American Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security. At the same time, it is important to avoid interpretations of the Russian-Japanese relations significance for third countries especially through the prism of a zero-sum game. First, an excessive focus on foreign partners runs against their own sovereignty. Second, the outlined Russian-Japanese normalization is unlikely to drive a wedge between Tokyo and Washington, or between Moscow and China, but it will help to build a system of more balanced international relations in Northeast Asia.

Although on the eve of the January summit the media published reports about Abe’s possible visit to Russia in spring, so far they have not been confirmed. Thus, the next round of bilateral negotiations, which can happen on the sidelines of the June G20 summit in Osaka, will be of interest. The event will take place one month before the elections to the upper house of the Japanese parliament, which are important for the ruling coalition strengthening in order to implement large-scale reforms, including the constitutional one. So, the G20 will become an important platform for Abe to demonstrate his successes in the diplomatic and economic field - both with Russia and with other powers, since Tokyo, as chairman of the G20, will obtain various diplomatic levers before and during the summit.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.