19:59 GMT +320 August 2019
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    People take photos of a banner showing Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Senzaki station in Nagato, Yamaguchi prefecture, Japan, December 14, 2016, a day before their summit meeting. The words on top reads, A new start from here in Nagato.

    What's Behind Japan 'Wavering' Between Two Opposing Policies Towards Russia

    © REUTERS / Toru Hanai
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    The Japanese government will apply a "two-directional" approach to its relations with Russia, Kyodo news agency reported, citing a diplomatic source in Tokyo. According to this strategy, Tokyo will further consider options for economic cooperation with Moscow while keeping in place anti-Russian sanctions, in order to comply with the G7.

    Analysts suggest that such a policy will not be welcomed, not only by the United States and the European Union, but also by Russia. All major actors are likely to ask Tokyo to decide on its foreign policy agenda and economic policy, according to reports in Japanese media.

    Japan joined Western sanctions against Russia in March 2014. Despite the fact that they have not been as effective as planned, they have casted a shadow over Moscow-Tokyo ties.

    At the time, the Japanese government decided to suspend consultations with Moscow on visa liberalization and put on ice talks on three agreements, including on investments, space exploration and prevention of dangerous military activities.

    As continuation to the final declaration of the G7 summit in Japanese Mie Prefecture, anti-Russian sanctions were prolonged. They were connected with the implementation on the Minsk agreement on the Ukrainian crisis. The declaration also read that sanctions against Russia could be further expanded.

    However, sanctions could not prevent Moscow and Tokyo from intensifying bilateral economic cooperation.

    In mid-December, an official visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin to Japan resulted in a package of 12 interstate agreements and 65 commercial projects with a total worth of $2.5 billion. Among them were cooperation agreements with Russian companies under Western sanctions, including Russia’s major oil producer Rosneft.

    At the same time, the Japanese Foreign Ministry has already announced relaxation of visa restrictions for Russia.

    Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe "will have to waver" between these two opposing strategies, according to Vladimir Grinyuk, a senior research fellow at the Center for Japanese Studies, at the Institute for Far Eastern Studies.

    "On the one hand, Abe is determined to develop cooperation with Russia. On the other hand, Japan is an ally of the US and a member of G7. I think that if necessary Abe could minimize Japan’s involvement in anti-Russian sanctions, but in a way that Washington and Brussels do not oppose that," Grinyuk told Sputnik Japanese.

    The expert underscored that Japanese sanctions were not very "sensitive" for Russia and bilateral cooperation between Moscow and Tokyo.

    The priority goal of the Japanese government is ending the South Kuril Islands territorial problem, a dispute that has marred Russian-Japanese ties since the end of World War II.

    Japan and Russia never signed a permanent peace treaty after the war due to a disagreement over four islands, which Russia calls the Southern Kurils and Japan the Northern Territories. The disputed islands, located in the Sea of Okhotsk, were claimed by Soviet forces at the end of the war.

    "Abe’s priorities are a peace treaty with Russia and reclaiming of the Kuril islets. This is why Tokyo needs special relations with Moscow," Grinyuk pointed out.

    Probably, Abe will have to explain the reasons for "special relations" with Russia at the next G7 meeting which will take place on May 26-27 in Italy. Sanctions against Russia will be on the agenda.

    However, there are several important events expected before the summit.

    On January 20, new US President Donald Trump will assume power. Earlier this week, the German newspaper Bild reported that according to European intelligence data the new US leader would begin the removal of anti-Russian sanctions, on advice from former State Secretary Henry Kissinger. Kissinger has reportedly met with Trump several times in the past couple of months and is rumored to be his informal foreign policy adviser.

    Moreover, Italian President Sergio Mattarella is expected to come to Russia for an official visit in Spring 2017.

    Finally, Abe wants to visit Russia in early-2017 to continue discussions on a peace treaty between Moscow and Tokyo. According to the Japanese prime minister, during Putin’s visit to Japan several important steps were made and now there is a chance to improve bilateral ties.


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    territorial dispute, talks, cooperation, Vladimir Putin, Shinzo Abe, Donald Trump, South Kuril Islands, Japan, United States, Russia
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