Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 102

As Russia and Japan enter a crucial period in their diplomatic effort to normalize and improve bilateral relations, high-level contacts between officials from the two countries look set to go into high gear. On May 31, Admiral Kazuya Natsukawa, chairman of the Japanese Defense Agency’s Joint Staff Council, is to begin a lengthy seven-day visit to Russia. During this time he will visit Moscow and Vladivostok, as well as tour various Russian military facilities in each region. The itinerary for Natsukawa, who is the first senior uniformed Japanese officer to travel to Russia, includes talks with Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev and General Staff Chief Anatoly Kvashnin. He is also to make a speech at Russia’s General Staff Academy. (Kyodo, Itar-Tass, May 26) Natsukawa’s visit is intended to boost contacts between the armed forces of the two countries.

The visit by Natsukawa will reportedly be followed later in June by talks in Tokyo between Japanese Deputy Foreign Minister Minoru Tamba and his Russian counterpart, Grigory Karasin. The two men co-chair a commission tasked with drafting a Russian-Japanese peace treaty. Recently named Russian Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko is tentatively scheduled to follow Karasin to Tokyo in mid-July, Japanese government sources said yesterday. According to the same sources, Japanese Foreign Minister Keizo Obuchi will visit Russia in September.

Finally, the government sources say, Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto is likely to visit Moscow in October for summit talks with President Boris Yeltsin. (Kyodo, Itar-Tass, May 27) That visit, which would follow two previous summits between the two men, will probably be critical. Hashimoto tabled a proposal in April that reportedly called for Russia to transfer at least three of the four disputed Kuril Islands to Japan following an undetermined transition period. Yeltsin has told Hashimoto that he would respond to the proposal during the Japanese leader’s visit to Moscow. The issue is potentially explosive and is being followed closely by nationalists in both countries. Yeltsin’s response could determine whether the two countries are able to move forward in their efforts to sign a peace treaty formally ending World War II and to normalize relations on the eve of the new century.