A sharp protest from Tokyo over recent remarks by Russian foreign minister Yevgeny Primakov is but the latest signal that improved relations between Russian and Japan are unlikely in the near term. A Japanese diplomat in Moscow registered Tokyo’s disapproval of Primakov’s January 12 statement in which he envisioned putting off settlement of the Kurile Islands territorial dispute to the distant future. Tokyo’s reaction came prior to a series of a high-level meetings between Japanese and Russian leaders that many in Moscow had hoped would finally improve relations between the two countries. Those meetings will include an April visit to Moscow by newly elected Japanese prime minister Ryutaro Hashimoto (for a conference on nuclear security), followed a month later by talks between the Russian and Japanese defense ministers concerning increased military cooperation. Yet Hashimoto and his newly-named foreign minister Yukihiko Ikeda have underscored the importance they assign to bilateral relations with the U.S., particularly in the security sphere. Ikeda even recently cited the presence of Russian troops in the Pacific as one of several potential sources of instability in the region. Japanese leaders, like their western counterparts, are said to be wary of the portent of recent personnel changes in the Russian government. Primakov is reputed to be a Soviet-style hard-liner likely to be intransigent on the territorial question. (14)
Duma Awards Committee Chairs.