Publication: Fortnight in Review Volume: 6 Issue: 10

Informal talks between Putin and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori in St. Petersburg on April 29 were equally inconclusive. Irreconcilable differences over the longstanding Kuril Islands territorial dispute has precluded the two countries from meeting a year 2000 deadline to conclude a peace treaty formally ending World War II. Putin and Mori appeared to make little progress on the territorial dispute in St. Petersburg–indeed, the issue was reportedly not discussed directly–though they did reaffirm their commitment to conclude the peace treaty agreement by the end of this year. More important, perhaps, the two newly minted leaders appeared to build a bit of personal chemistry. But the most important result of the meeting may have been an apparently tentative agreement that the two men would hold a formal summit meeting in Japan this August. Former Russian President Boris Yeltsin had repeatedly delayed meeting with Japanese leaders in part because of the impasse over the Kuril Islands. It remains to be seen whether Putin and Mori are in any position to overcome this deadlock.

The scheduling of a long-delayed summit meeting was also at the heart of talks in New Delhi on April 27-28 between Russian Security Council Secretary Sergei Ivanov and top Indian leaders. Yeltsin had postponed visits to New Delhi on at least two occasions, a development which left relations between the two countries over the past several years in an odd sort of limbo. But it was agreed during Ivanov’s visit that Putin would travel to India in early October for formal summit talks with Indian Prime Minister Athal Behari Vajpayee. The two leaders are expected to sign a strategic partnership agreement that has been several years in preparation. They may also finalize several new arms sales agreements, a move which would further expand Russia’s already lucrative weapons trade with New Delhi. Ivanov’s own visit to the Indian capital came amid rumors, however, that India may be looking to diversify its foreign arms procurement practices. The visit also came in the wake of U.S. President Bill Clinton’s groundbreaking March trip to India. Russian diplomats reportedly observed that visit closely for signs that it signaled a shift in India’s diplomatic posture vis-a-vis Russia and the United States. Indian officials have proclaimed their desire for friendship with both countries.