Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 155

The latest developments on the Kuril Islands issue come amid a flurry of high-level contacts between Russian and Japanese officials. Early this month Tamba and his Russian counterpart, Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin, held talks in Moscow devoted to the peace treaty and islands negotiations, as well as to Yeltsin’s still unscheduled visit to Japan. A pair of Russian-Japanese subcommissions–one dealing with the Kuril Islands border issue (in effect, the territorial dispute) and the other with Russian-Japanese economic cooperation on the islands–took place at the same time. Little of substance came out of the meetings, though Karasin was quoted as saying that “an absolutely new and positive atmosphere [had] taken shape” during the talks. Among other things, the two sides discussed an easing of visa regulations for former Japanese residents of the Kurils and their relatives to visit the islands, and a joint project in fish-farming.

Any good feelings which might have come out of that meeting were upset almost immediately, however, when President Boris Yeltsin fired then Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin and replaced him with security chief Vladimir Putin. While Japanese leaders diplomatically described the government change as an internal Russian affair, it surely reinforced a sentiment long held in Tokyo that Russia’s domestic chaos has done little to help Moscow and Tokyo resolve their diplomatic differences (Kyodo, August 9).

The change of governments in Moscow did not, however, disturb a five-day visit to Russia by Japanese Defense Chief Hosei Norota which began on August 15. Norota’s stay included talks with Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev and a visit to the Russian Pacific Fleet’s headquarters in Vladivostok. The two sides signed a memorandum on boosting military-to-military contacts and discussed establishing a “hot line” between the Pacific Fleet and Japan’s Defense Agency (AP, August 15; Kommersant daily, August 18; Itar-Tass, August 20).

The next several weeks, moreover, will see several other key meetings between Russian and Japanese officials. Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko will pay a visit to Tokyo from August 30-September 4 for trade and economic talks. He is also to take part in a September 1-2 meeting of a joint Russian-Japanese intergovernmental trade commission. Khristenko’s delegation will include Primorsky Territory Governor Yevgeny Nazdratenko and a number of other Russian Far Eastern regional leaders and officials (AP, Kyodo, Itar-Tass, August 21; Itar-Tass, August 23-24). Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, for his part, is scheduled to hold talks with his Japanese counterpart, Masahiko Komura, at the UN on September 14. Yeltsin’s visit to Japan will undoubtedly be included on the agenda.