Russian President Vladimir Putin met in the Kremlin Monday with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the first top-level Russo-Japanese summit in almost a decade.
The two wrestled for hours with the problem that has stymied Russian and Japanese leaders for almost 70 years: how to find a mutually acceptable and hopefully profitable way to finally end World War II.
President Vladimir Putin shaking hands with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the Kremlin on Monday.
"The leaders of both countries agreed that the situation where, 67 years after the conclusion of [World War II], we have still been unable to conclude a bilateral peace treaty, looks abnormal," said a joint statement at the meeting’s end Monday.
"We have ordered our foreign ministries to intensify contacts with an aim to developing a mutually acceptable plan. This will prioritize two parallel processes: discussion of the main subjects of the peace agreement and, simultaneously, ways to actively promote improvements across the full range of Russian-Japanese relations," it said.
Many new circumstances are driving Moscow and Tokyo to take a fresh look at one another, despite the debate that has raged since the end of World War II about the rightful ownership of the Kuril Islands, which Russia has occupied since the end of the war but Japan still claims. The dispute is the major reason the two nations never signed a peace treaty.
But there is one big obstacle that continues to stand in the way of any true breakthrough: the territorial dispute over the Kuril Islands. These four small specks of land off Japan’s northern tip were occupied by Soviet forces in the waning days of World War II, and resolving their status looks as unsolvable as ever. Without a deal over them, no formal peace treaty seems even remotely possible.
"There is a mutual wish to find a solution to the Kuril issue," says Anatoly Koshkin, an expert with the official Institute of Oriental Studies in Moscow.
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