Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 45

The Japanese government indicated yesterday that it intends to replace the country’s current ambassador to Russia, Takehiro Togo, as part of a broader rotation of diplomatic personnel. In a move expected to be formalized this summer, Togo will be succeeded by current Japanese Deputy Foreign Minister Minoru Tamba (Kyodo, March 4).

Russian sources yesterday observed that Tamba has played a major role in formulating Japanese policy toward Moscow since July 1997. The same sources suggested that he was among those who initiated a move by Tokyo at that time to improve its relations with Russia. He was also said to be one of the authors of a recent Japanese proposal which called for resolving the long-standing Kuril Islands territorial dispute by redrawing the Russian-Japanese border in a fashion which would ultimately bring the islands under Japanese control. The 60-year-old Tamba speaks Russian and has served–along with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin–as one of two co-chairmen of a joint commission tasked with drafting a Russian-Japanese peace treaty. He was also a member of the Japanese delegations at the three Russian-Japanese summits which have taken place over the past eighteen months (Itar-Tass, March 4).

Tamba’s appointment comes at what is shaping up to be a key period for Japanese-Russian relations. Since late 1997 the two countries have sought to normalize relations fully by both negotiating a peace treaty and seeking resolution of the Kuril Islands dispute. A deadline for the former task, set earlier at the year 2000 by President Boris Yeltsin and former Prime Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto, is fast approaching. But the two sides remain stymied by their inability to reach a compromise on the territorial issue, and their differences in that area could yet undo much of the positive work the two countries have accomplished over the past year and a half. Moscow and Tokyo have a number of high-level meetings scheduled for the coming months, and those talks will likely determine whether they will be able to maintain their recent diplomatic momentum.