Japan FM to visit Moscow amid tensions over island dispute

MOSCOW, Jan 11, 2019 : Japan’s foreign minister Taro Kono will visit Moscow next week for talks with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on a decades-long row over four disputed islands, the Russian foreign ministry said Friday.

The visit comes after Russia accused Japan this week of whipping up tensions before an expected meeting between President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Moscow and Tokyo never signed a peace treaty after World War II due to the territorial dispute over the islands invaded by the Soviet Union in the final days of the war.

Russia calls the islands the Kurils and Japan calls them its Northern Territories.

Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said a “first round of Russian-Japanese talks on the problem of reaching a peace deal between the two countries” will be held Monday.

She blamed Japanese media for “playing a significant role in creating a strange information atmosphere that precedes the beginning of a negotiation process.”

On Wednesday the Russian foreign ministry said it had summoned Japanese Ambassador Toyohisa Kozuki and told him it viewed recent statements by Tokyo as an “attempt to artificially stir up the atmosphere” over the issue of the peace treaty.

It said Japan was attempting to “force its own scenario” on Russia of how the talks could resolve the issue of the peace treaty.

Russia’s position on the Kurils remains unchanged and Japan must accept the outcome of World War II including Russia’s sovereignty over the disputed islands, the ministry stressed.

Moscow’s angry statement came five days after Abe’s New Year press conference, in which he spoke of the need to help Russian residents of the disputed islands “accept and understand that the sovereignty of their homes will change”.

The Japanese Prime Minister said the residents’ lives will improve by living alongside Japanese people and vowed to step up peace talks with Russia in 2019, saying he intends to visit Russia late this month.

Putin and Abe last met in November and agreed to accelerate talks to formally end World War II hostilities, taking a 1956 joint declaration as their starting point. (AFP)