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Japan to maintain distance from Russia while seeking opportunities

Publication Date : 04-06-2014


Sergei Naryshkin, speaker of the Russian State Duma and a close aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin, paid a brief visit to Japan ahead of a two-day Group of Seven summit in Brussels, where the tense situation in Ukraine is expected to be the main topic of discussion.

Naryshkin, who arrived on Monday, currently faces sanctions, including entry restrictions, by the United States and European countries.

Therefore, the government will refrain from holding meetings with the Russian politician, but it will still seek opportunities for dialogues with Russia while carefully monitoring changes in diplomatic policy toward Moscow by the United States and European countries, according to sources.

On Monday, Naryshkin stressed the importance of Japan-Russia ties in front of about 500 guests during a bilateral cultural exchange event at a Tokyo hotel. He said he believed it is very important for Russia and Japan to aim for the kind of warm atmosphere that was felt at the venue.

Naryshkin’s visit was allowed because the government hopes to make progress toward a solution for the longstanding territorial dispute between the two nations over the northern territories off Hokkiaido. Bilateral talks over the territorial issues have recently shown signs of progress due to a favorable relationship between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Putin. To push the negotiations forward, Abe must continue holding talks with Russia and work to realise Putin’s visit to Japan in autumn, according to sources.

Abe is expected to stress cooperation with the United States and European countries regarding Japan’s approach to the situation in Ukraine. At the same time, the prime minister is likely to refer to the importance of keeping the door to dialogue with Moscow open, the sources said.

However, the United States has strongly urged Japan to take concerted action with the United States and European countries on sanctions against Russia. As a result, the government is facing difficulties in taking concerted diplomatic action.

Naryshkin met with senior officials during previous visit in 2012, including then Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, because the government recognises him as an important figure “who is able to inform Putin about Japan’s intentions,” according to a Foreign Ministry senior official.

However, Naryshkin was expected to only meet with such figures as House of Representatives speaker Bunmei Ibuki, House of Councillors president Masaaki Yamazaki, and former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori during his current visit.

The United States and European nations are imposing sanctions on Naryshkin in response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea in southern Ukraine. The government’s current approach to Naryshkin is therefore seen as an effort not to provoke the United States and Europe over the tense situation in Ukraine.

“Russian State Duma speaker (Naryshkin) will not meet with government officials,” chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a press conference Monday. “We will cooperate with G-7 countries and take measures concerning (Ukraine).”

Meanwhile, a government official said, “We will have to continue to observe the actions of the United States and consider keeping an ‘adequate’ distance to Russia for a while.”


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