February 27, 2016 – Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will visit Russia despite the United States urging him not to do so, a top government official said Wednesday.
According to Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, Abe’s top spokesperson, the prime minister will make an unofficial visit to Russia to discuss a long-standing territorial dispute between Tokyo and Moscow.
“Prime Minister Abe is planning an unofficial visit to Russia at an appropriate time before Russian President Vladimir Putin visits Japan,” Suga told a press briefing. The Russian President is expected to visit Japan at some point later this year.
Local media quoting diplomatic sources said however that U.S. President Barack Obama, in talks on the telephone on Feb. 9, had pressed Abe to refrain from making the trip to Sochi in May, due to the U.S.’s stance over Russia’s actions in Ukraine and Syria.
The sources were also quoted as saying that Washington feels that Tokyo is overly cozying up to Moscow as it seeks to resolve the territorial spat.
To this end, Suga said that communications between Japan and its main ally the U.S. would continue as well as its special cooperation, and through the Group of Seven countries’ mechanisms, Japan would jointly stand up to the challenges facing the international community.
“We will closely cooperate and communicate with the United States and Japan will appropriately respond to challenges facing the international community such as the situation in Ukraine through cooperation with the Group of Seven countries,” said Suga.
Economic sanctions have been slapped on Russia following incidents pertaining to the Ukraine in 2014, by the U.S., Japan and other countries, and Russia’s membership of the Group of Eight highly industrialized nations, which comprises France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, Japan, the United States, Canada, and Russia, has been shelved.
Despite imposing sanctions on Russia, which has delayed the process, including hopes for an earlier visit by Putin to Japan, Tokyo has been keen to resolve its territorial dispute with Moscow over islands located north of Hokkaido, despite some angst from the U.S. over Abe’s eagerness to woo Putin.
The islands in question are Etorofu, Kunashiri, Shikotan and the Habomai rocks, which are believed by Japan to be a part of the Nemuro Subprefecture of Hokkaido Prefecture and are referred to by Japan as the Northern Territories.
Russia, however, maintains that the islands that they refer to as the Southern Kurils are Russian territory and were recaptured by the Soviet Union after World War II.
The territorial dispute has prevented both sides from inking a peace treaty after the war.