Publication: Monitor Volume: 2 Issue: 136

In the wake of Boris Yeltsin’s recent electoral victory, Moscow and Tokyo appear set to launch yet another push at improving long stagnant bilateral relations. From the Japanese side, that readiness was signaled July 9 when Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto was reported to have indicated — schedule permitting — an interest in attending Yeltsin’s upcoming inauguration ceremony. He and Yeltsin had spoken by phone the preceding day. Also on July 9, a Japanese cabinet official referred during a news conference to Hashimoto’s "determination" to visit Russia in early August so as "to congratulate Yeltsin personally" on his reelection. (Itar-Tass, July 9)

Moscow reciprocated that enthusiasm. On July 9 Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Panov spoke of Russia’s intention to confirm its adherence to the 1993 Tokyo declaration, an accord that specified ongoing negotiations over the Kuril Islands territorial dispute. The declaration is, for Japan, the sine qua non for broader bilateral talks with Russia. Panov also dismissed as "groundless" speculation in the Japanese media that Russia was preparing to distance itself from the declaration (but failed to note that comments precisely to that effect by foreign minister Yevgeny Primakov were responsible for Tokyo’s concerns). Panov followed those remarks with the announcement yesterday that Moscow would make additional reductions in the number of Russian troops based on the disputed Kuril Islands. Calling also for an increase in joint economic activities, Panov said it was time to create "a completely new situation" around the islands. "We want that region to become a region of trust and cooperation, and we see that as a priority guiding our work at present," he said. (Itar-Tass, July 9 & 10)

The difficulty of building that trust was evident when Russia’s border forces announced yesterday morning that they had fired upon a group of 20 Japanese fishing boats attempting to fish illegally off the waters of the Kuril Islands. (Interfax, July 10)

Duma Bill on Military Police.