Photo/Illutration Fumio Kishida, who then served as foreign minister, greets Russian President Vladimir Putin at Yamaguchi Ube Airport on Dec. 15, 2016. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Russian President Vladimir Putin clearly has no intention of honoring international laws and agreements. His invasion of Ukraine leaves no doubt about that.

But here’s another thing. When it became obvious that continuing talks with Moscow over a peace treaty to formally end hostilities dating to World War II was already pointless, Japan should have called them off before Russia could. 

Moscow on March 21 announced retaliatory measures against Tokyo for its economic and other sanctions, which include restrictive steps with regard to the disputed Northern Territories issue, which is deeply intertwined with peace treaty talks.

Specifically, Russia announced it will terminate those talks as well as joint economic programs, blaming Japan for damaging “relations of mutual cooperation and neighborly goodwill.”  

The dispute over the Northern Territories has prevented the two nations from signing a peace treaty for nearly 80 years. The only way to correct this imbalance is to hold dialogue.

In recent years, however, Russia has not shown any serious interest in the peace talks. In fact, it has played hardball all along, insisting that the negotiations were conditional on Japan’s acknowledgement that the disputed islands are in fact Russian territory.

By suspending the talks now, Moscow is essentially passing the buck to Tokyo. 

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida must stand firm and continue to resolutely protest Russia’s outrageous invasion of Ukraine.

Joint economic activities with regard to the Northern Territories were agreed on in 2016 when Shinzo Abe was prime minister and held negotiations with Putin. But right from the start, Putin apparently had no intention of implementing the deal.

Instead, Moscow insisted on applying Russian law to the activities, knowing full well that Tokyo could not accept that.

Earlier this month, Moscow instituted a law for establishing special tax-exempt areas on the islands, a declaration of intent to lure non-Japanese foreign investment.  

The most unfortunate part of this development is that Russia also announced an end to “visa-free exchanges” for former Japanese residents of the four islands.

The program was proposed by Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev when he visited Japan in 1991, and has since served to promote mutual understanding between the current residents and former Japanese inhabitants.

Another program that survived the two countries’ differences since the Cold War era ended concerns visits by former Japanese residents to the graves of their kin on the islands.

Although no mention was made of this program in Moscow’s latest announcement, we hope Russia will allow it to continue from a humanitarian standpoint due to the fact that former islanders are now elderly.

We cannot but question Kishida’s handling of the situation to date.

Even after Russia went ahead with its threat to invade Ukraine, Kishida kept making indecisive remarks about the peace treaty talks. He said, for instance, “We are not in a situation to comment on how the talks will go.”

Given the function of the treaty on matters of territorial sovereignty, it was clear that the negotiations were pointless.          

Kishida must not repeat the Abe administration’s mistake of always taking a conciliatory stance toward Putin. When Russia annexed the Crimea Peninsula in 2014, Abe’s preoccupation with peace treaty talks stood in the way of the Group of Seven’s unity.

There is no denying that the indecisiveness of Japan, the United States and European nations back then probably “spoiled” Putin.

Having served as Abe’s foreign minister, Kishida is responsible for examining the nation’s diplomacy of the time and rebuild its Russia policy from scratch.


--The Asahi Shimbumm March 23