In a sign that Japanese-Russian relations may be developing some forward momentum, Japanese foreign minister Yukihiko Ikeda announced on November 17 that Tokyo would resume disbursing some $500 million in Export-Import Bank loans to Russia. The aid package had been frozen since 1991. Ikeda’s announcement followed what was described as an intense round of talks in Tokyo between Ikeda and his Russian counterpart, Yevgeny Primakov. The loans, originally intended only for "humanitarian assistance," would now be made available for commercial and industrial projects, Japanese officials said. According to Japanese media, potential projects include a car plant outside of Moscow and industrial water works in the Far Eastern city of Nakhodka.
The two sides appeared also to have made some progress in talks on the Kuril Islands territorial dispute. As expected, Primakov proposed that the two countries jointly develop the four islands, which have been held by Russia since the end of World War II but which are claimed by Japan. Ikeda said that Tokyo would study the Russian proposals, and Russian sources quoted a highly placed Japanese Foreign Ministry spokesman as saying that joint economic projects on the islands might serve as a step toward improving broader bilateral relations. Previously Tokyo had been reticent to commit to such projects, fearing that its assent in this area could be interpreted as recognition of Russian sovereignty over the islands. Indeed, both sides approached the proposed joint economic projects warily and placed them in differing political contexts. Primakov emphasized that the proposals do not constitute a renunciation by Russia of its ownership of the islands, while Japanese officials intimated that they would view the projects as a stepping stone toward recognition of Japan’s claims on the islands. (Reuter, Itar-Tass, November 16)
Another Setback for Russian Space Program.