Russia halts peace treaty talks with Japan over Ukraine sanctions

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe welcomes Russian President Vladimir Putin to the Group of 20 major economies summit in Osaka in June 2019.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry said Monday it has no intention of continuing peace treaty talks with Japan, an apparent reprisal against sanctions Tokyo has imposed on Moscow over the Ukraine invasion.

In response, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Tuesday that Russia’s action was, “Absolutely unacceptable.”

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said at a press conference on Tuesday morning that Senior Deputy Foreign Minister Shigeo Yamada made a protest to Russian Ambassador Mikhail Galuzin.

During a Budget Committee meeting of the House of Councillors on Tuesday morning, Kishida said: “The current situation has been completely caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. For Russia to deal with this by redirecting its frustrations onto Japan-Russian relations is preposterous.”

The statement released by Russia’s Foreign Ministry said, “In the current situation … it is impossible to discuss the signing of a fundamental treaty in bilateral relations with a country that takes an outspokenly unfriendly stance and tries to cause harm to the interests of our country.”

Russia also intends to suspend a program to allow visa-free exchanges between Japanese people and residents of the northern territories off Hokkaido, as well as the simplified procedures for former Japanese residents to visit graves on the four islands. Both programs started in the 1990s.

Moscow also plans to withdraw from negotiations to start joint economic activities on the northern territories, agreed to in 2016 during a meeting between then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“All responsibility for harm to bilateral relations and to the interests of Japan itself rests upon Tokyo, which has consciously made its choice in favor of an anti-Russian policy,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said.

By unilaterally declaring the halt of peace treaty talks, which is the largest pending issue between the two countries, in the hopes of agitating Tokyo, Russia is believed to be trying to drive a wedge into the unity displayed by Western nations and Japan.

During a 2018 Abe-Putin summit, the leaders agreed to base peace treaty talks on the 1956 Japan-Soviet Joint Declaration that stipulates the return of two islands — the Habomai islets and Shikotan Island— to Japan, shelving the idea of the return of all four islands.

In 2020, however, amendments to Russia’s Constitution included a clause banning the ceding of Russian territory. Moscow also has taken a tougher stance against Japan’s interests on the northern territories through such measures as enacting a law on March 9 on establishing tax-free special zones to attract companies from other countries.