Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 118

Russian sources indicated yesterday that Yeltsin will meet on June 20 on the sidelines of the G-7 summit with U.S. President Bill Clinton and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. This abbreviated schedule of bilateral contacts has been attributed to the time shortages created by Yeltsin’s unexpected decision to attend only the final day of the summit (Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin will stand in for Yeltsin tonight and tomorrow).

An interesting sidebar to the summit story, however, involves the Kremlin’s apparent ambivalence about scheduling bilateral talks between Yeltsin and Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi (Russian agencies, June 17). That decision is interesting because Tokyo has been pressing for such a meeting. Indeed, during a visit to Moscow by Japanese Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura late last month, the Russian and Japanese foreign ministers appeared to agree that Yeltsin and Obuchi would in fact hold talks in Cologne (see the Monitor, June 3). Japanese sources, moreover, reported yesterday that Obuchi and Yeltsin had agreed during a telephone conversation to try to arrange a meeting in Cologne (Kyodo, June 17). A Russian report of the telephone conversation, based on information provided by the presidential press service, included no such reference (Itar-Tass, June 17).

Yeltsin and Obuchi may yet meet in Cologne, and the Russian president this week reaffirmed his intention to visit Japan later this year. In general, however, the Kremlin appears to be showing increasingly less interest in arranging a Russian-Japanese summit. That hesitancy appears to be due in large part to Japan’s ever more urgent calls for the two sides to settle their long-standing dispute over control of the Kuril Islands. The apparent cooling in Russian-Japanese relations may be due also to Moscow’s increasingly close ties to Beijing. The two Asian giants have found common ground in their criticism of NATO actions in Yugoslavia, and have also jointly opposed tighter defense ties between Tokyo and Washington.