Less than a month after his allegations about missing nuclear weapons stirred up tensions between Moscow and the U.S., Aleksandr Lebed may last week have managed to ruffle Moscow’s diplomatic relations with Tokyo as well. Lebed’s suggestion, made during a visit to the Japanese capital, that Russia should return the disputed Kuril Islands to Japan was likely heard with satisfaction and some surprise in Tokyo, but undoubtedly with consternation in Moscow. In additional remarks made in Tokyo on September 19, Lebed also indirectly blamed the Kremlin for failing to encourage Japanese investment in Russia. He said that the failure to create the requisite tax and legislative systems in Russia means that Japanese businessmen will not invest there — regardless of whether there is progress on the islands dispute.
Lebed’s remarks come just as the Japanese government appears finally to have abandoned its former position of holding broader bilateral relations hostage to the territorial issue, and only weeks before a much anticipated meeting between Russian president Boris Yeltsin and Japanese prime minister Ryutaro Hashimoto (scheduled for November 1-2 in Krasnoyarsk). On September 19, Yeltsin reiterated the Kremlin’s position that resolution of the Kuril Islands dispute should be deferred to a "future generation." Lebed accused the Russian government of doing too little to advance talks on the islands and suggested that they might be returned to Japan in as little as 20 years. (See Monitor, September 19)
Although the Kremlin did not respond immediately to Lebed’s remarks, nationalist forces in Russia lost no time in doing so. Duma deputy speaker Sergei Baburin on September 18 assailed the presumptive presidential candidate and called for Moscow to continue pursuing its "tough" position on the islands issue. A day later various nationalist groups met in Moscow to publicize the same message. (Russian and Japanese agencies, September 17-20) A Russian daily observed, moreover, that the country’s diplomats are now in an embarrassing position and will have to craft their repudiation of Lebed’s remarks carefully so as not to insult Tokyo. (Segodnya, September 18)
Syrian Anti-Aircraft Units in Russian Maneuvers.