Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 179

Despite the best efforts of both sides to maintain diplomatic momentum, Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov’s difficulties in forming a new government have meant that plans for a series of high-level contacts between officials from Russia and Japan remain unsettled. Russian government sources did suggest to reporters yesterday that First Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Maslyukov is a leading contender to be appointed to one key slot–that of Russian co-chairman of a joint Russian-Japanese economic cooperation commission.

Maslyukov, who has visited Japan several times, met yesterday in Moscow with Takehiro Togo, Japan’s ambassador to Russia. The two called for more Japanese-Russian economic cooperation, and Maslyukov pledged also to help implement several earlier agreements on joint projects in machine-building, pharmaceuticals and the energy industry (Itar-Tass, July 29). Prior to the latest Russian government reshuffle, then Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov served as Russian co-chairman of the joint cooperation commission. Japanese sources have credited Nemtsov with energizing economic interaction between the two sides. They had also suggested that Tokyo would be disappointed if he was dismissed from the co-chairman post (Asia Pulse via COMTEX, August 26).

In Tokyo, meanwhile, Japanese and Russian officials said yesterday that Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura is likely to visit Russia on October 17-18. The visit had originally been scheduled for September 13, but was postponed amid the hubbub that accompanied the change of governments in Russia. While in Moscow Komura is scheduled to meet with the Russian prime minister and with other top officials, in part to prepare for a planned November summit meeting between President Boris Yeltsin and Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi. Sources said it remained unclear, however, whether another joint Russian-Japanese body–this one a committee tasked with a drafting a peace treaty to bring a formal end to World War II–will be held during Komura’s stay in the Russian capital, as was originally scheduled (Kyodo, September 30).

In a related development yesterday, a local Russian government official from the disputed south Kuril Islands requested emergency financial aid from the Kremlin. Vladimir Zema, administrative head of Russia’s south Kuril district, complained that a federal program for the development of the Kurils has not been fulfilled. As a result, he said, the residents of Kunashir and Shikotan islands face shortages of bread and a more general worsening of socio-economic conditions. Zema warned that Moscow’s failure to provide aid to the islands’ residents could result in “political losses” for Russia because the worsening situation there generates “pro-Japanese feelings” among the residents (Itar-Tass, September 29).

Zema’s letter seems calculated to force a positive response from Moscow by raising the specter of growing pro-Japanese sentiment on the islands. The territorial dispute over the four Russian-controlled south Kuril Islands has been the major stumbling block to normalized relations between Moscow and Tokyo since the close of World War II. It is expected to be on the agenda during Obuchi’s November visit to Moscow. Earlier this year, in the wake of an April summit meeting between Yeltsin and then Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto, Moscow pledged to provide greater aid to the residents of the Kuril Islands.