Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 209

A day before Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi’s long-awaited arrival in Moscow, Russian and Japanese diplomats continued to spar yesterday over both the Kuril Islands territorial dispute and proposed Japanese financial assistance for Russia. Obuchi was scheduled to arrive in the Russian capital last night (November 10). He will hold talks with Russian President Boris Yeltsin today and with Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov on Thursday. Obuchi’s visit is the first official visit by a Japanese Prime Minister to Russia since 1973. It will also mark the third summit meeting between Russian and Japanese leaders since the two countries launched a diplomatic initiative last year aimed at fully normalizing relations and at signing a peace treaty formally ending World War II. The first two summit meetings, each of which was conducted on an informal basis, took place between Yeltsin and Ryutaro Hashimoto, Japan’s prime minister at the time.

Two sets of issues are likely to dominate this week’s Russian-Japanese talks: first, the dispute over the four Russian-controlled Kuril Islands claimed by Japan, and, second, Japanese economic cooperation with–and economic assistance to–Russia. Each of those topics were addressed in Tokyo and Moscow on Monday (November 9). Japanese diplomats denied reports that Tokyo was linking financial aid for Russia to a satisfactory resolution of the territorial dispute. Tokyo also denied, however, that Obuchi intended during this week’s summit to announce that Japan would hand over another tranche of a US$800 million credit promised earlier to Moscow. According to Japanese Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura, distribution of the money is dependent upon an agreement between Russia and the IMF (Ekho Moskvy, Russian agencies, November 10).

Russian sources, meanwhile, confirmed that the Kremlin had approved a Foreign Ministry-drafted response to a Japanese proposal aimed at settling the islands dispute. The Russian sources provided no details as to the substance of the response. They indicated, however, that it would take the form of a “counterproposal” to the original Japanese offering (Russian agencies, November 10). The Japanese proposal, which reportedly calls for the eventual transfer of the four disputed islands to Tokyo, was submitted to Yeltsin by Hashimoto at their April summit in Kawana, Japan. Various Russian officials have in recent weeks strongly suggested that the Russian response to Hashimoto’s proposal would contain no territorial concessions to Tokyo.

In an apparent effort to ensure that the Kremlin does take an uncompromising position on the Kurils, the Russian State Duma may hold hearings on the islands. Duma Deputy Speaker Sergei Baburin suggested to reporters that the Duma was moved to hold the hearings following receipt of a letter from former Soviet diplomats warning against concessions on the islands. “The worst things that may happen is an attempt to satisfy one-time economic needs with a concession of territories,” Baburin was quoted as saying (Itar-Tass, November 10). Some lawmakers have accused the Kremlin of plotting secretly to give the disputed islands away–possibly in return for massive Japanese financial aid.