Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 161

Flagging ties between Russia and Japan got a much-needed boost yesterday when the two sides reached an agreement which will allow former Japanese residents of the disputed Kuril Islands to visit those islands freely. The two countries also signed a package of economic and trade agreements which included a pledge by Tokyo to resume disbursement to Russia of loans worth US$1.1 billion through Japan’s Export-Import Bank. The agreements came during a meeting between visiting Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko and Japanese Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura. The two sides also conducted some four hours of talks under the auspices of a bilateral committee on trade and economic issues cochaired by the two men. A day earlier Khristenko had launched his four-day visit to Japan by meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi. The two had reached preliminary agreement on the accords signed yesterday (Kyodo, August 31, September 1).

The travel agreement allows former Japanese inhabitants of the islands, along with their spouses and children, to visit the islands at any time, without the need for passports or the involvement of immigration. It goes a step beyond an earlier Russian-Japanese agreement under which Japanese and Russian visitors to and from the islands do not require visas when participating in government trips. The new agreement follows up on a proposal made by Obuchi to Russian President Boris Yeltsin during Obuchi’s November visit to Moscow. The Russian and Japanese sides hope to arrange a visit to the islands under the new agreement sometime later this month (Kyodo, August 31). The four south Kuril Islands, controlled by Russia but claimed by Japan, were seized by Soviet troops at the close of World War II.

Komura yesterday said that the decision to resume disbursement of loan moneys to Russia “underscores our commitments to supporting reforms” under Boris Yeltsin and the newly named cabinet of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. The loans are part of a US$1.5 billion credit package pledged last February by Japan in conjunction with the World Bank. Moscow earlier received US$400,000 of the loan, but the remainder was frozen following last August’s Russian financial crisis. Khristenko announced yesterday that a first tranche of US$50 million under the resumed loan program will be disbursed within a matter of days. Two additional tranches–of US$300 million and US$100 million–were also discussed during yesterday’s talks (Kyodo, Itar-Tass, September 1).

This week’s Russian-Japanese agreements come as momentum has slowed in efforts by the two countries to reach agreement on a peace treaty formally ending World War II. Several years ago Russian and Japanese leaders pledged to conclude the treaty agreement by the year 2000, but it seems increasingly less likely that the deadline will be met. Japanese officials have instead started speaking of reaching agreement by the end of next year. The main obstacle in the peace treaty negotiations has been the inability of the two countries to resolve their dispute over the Kuril Islands. In hopes of boosting those negotiations, Tokyo has been pushing for President Boris Yeltsin to fulfill a pledge to travel to Japan for a long overdue summit meeting with Obuchi. Russian officials are now saying that the Yeltsin visit will indeed be made by the end of this year. But, much to Tokyo’s chagrin, they refuse to be pinned down to a specific date.