Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 191

One factor which will apparently not work in Moscow’s favor diplomatically, however, is the performance of President Boris Yeltsin. The Russian leader’s infirmities and his seeming detachment from government business appear to be leaving Russian relations with some key partners in limbo. Yeltsin’s incapacity has been exhibited most graphically with regard to planned meetings between the Russian president and foreign leaders. The Kremlin has repeatedly put off scheduling key summit meetings–all of them already long overdue–between Yeltsin and the leaders of China, Japan and India.

In an apparent effort to cover for Yeltsin, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov suggested earlier this week that the president has chosen not to meet with these foreign leaders so that he can concentrate on Russia’s current domestic problems. Ivanov linked that rather dubious assertion, moreover, to rumors of Yeltsin’s possible resignation from office. The Russian foreign minister described the president as both the “main factor of political stability in Russia,” and suggested that his resignation would harm Russian national interests because “it would undoubtedly seriously destabilize the international situation.” He did not elaborate on either count (Nezavisimaya gazeta, October 12).

Japan is one country which appears to be reacting to this waiting game with increasing impatience. During a meeting with Russia’s ambassador to Japan on October 13, recently named Japanese Foreign Minister Yohei Kono chided Moscow for not moving faster to resolve the two countries’ long-standing territorial dispute. A “problem which arose in the twentieth century must be resolved within the twentieth century,” Kono reportedly told Aleksandr Panov (Kyodo, October 13). The Russian-Japanese territorial row stems from the seizure by Russian troops of the four south Kuril Islands at the close of World War II. In 1997 the two countries resolved to sign a peace treaty–and, in Tokyo’s view at least, resolve the territorial dispute–by the year 2000. That deadline looks increasingly unlikely to be met, and the impasse appears to be one reason why Yeltsin has refused to follow through with a planned Russian-Japanese summit.

But Kono’s published remarks were mild compared to those of Japan’s newly named ambassador to Russia. In a newspaper interview earlier this week, Minoru Tamba argued that a Japanese proposal calling for the four disputed islands to be redesignated as Japanese territory ought to be fully acceptable to Moscow. He also dismissed long-standing Russian claims alleging that public opposition has stopped Moscow from making concessions on the territorial issue. Tamba argued that, yes, “a stupid politician fails to consider public opinion,” and a “weak and ineffective [politician] follows it.” But a “strong” politician, he said, “shapes” public opinion. “Let us,” he concluded, “be strong” (Russian agencies, October 12).