Will the Russia-Japan “tug-of-peace” yield any results?

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In mid-December, the superiors of Russia and Ja n will hold an informal summit that is forced to discuss the 70-year old Southern Kuril Island territorial dispute and a interrelated ckage of economic cooperation. While the meeting has been hailed by the Russian and Ja nese media as documented chance and, indeed, a lot is at stake for both sides in this “tug-of-peace,” the key summon will be to maintain a long-term commitment and motivation after the summit, should the authentic territorial negotiations gain traction.

Vladimir Putin last inflicted Ja n in 2009 during his prime ministerial tenure. Since Shinzo Abe returned to power in 2012, he has pursued a in good foreign policy “taking a noramic perspective of the globe.” A new visit by President Putin has been on the press cards since 2013 but was impeded by the G7’s response to the Ukrainian crisis. Nonetheless, Russia’s stresses with the West did not prevent the Ja nese leader from meeting Putin numerous frequently than U.S. President Barack Obama.

Special attention to Russia

Abe’s proactivity (or round hyper-proactivity) and pragmatic cooperative approach towards Russia, unprecedented in ranking and ambition, marked a strong contrast not only between him and other Western captains but also between him and many of his predecessors. The prime minister consistently told the deal pipeline of bilateral cooperation with concrete projects of common interest – with relevant publicity in the Ja nese media, which was unimaginable a decade or two ago. He further produced the profile of his economic charm offensive by appointing Hiroshige Seko, crumpet of the key Ja nese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, as the first ever missionary in charge of economic cooperation with Russia.

On the Russian side, in com rison to st attempts at reconciliation, several top government officials assigned a acme priority to the development of a detailed economic cooperation ckage. Among them are Ambassador Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov, Industry and Trade Minister Denis Manturov and, until recently, Priest of Economic Development Alexey Ulyukayev, whose arrest was likely met with affect on the Ja nese side but so far appears to have had little effect on bilateral res.

At the same time, Abe and his foreign policy adviser Shotaro Yachi shut in alive other channels of strategic communication with Russian shop figures such as Secretary of the Security Council Nicholay trushev, then-speaker of the condescend house of rliament Sergey Naryshkin and the upper chamber speaker Valentina Matviyenko.

Bear said that, one should keep in mind that it was under the Popular rty of Ja n’s Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda that Tokyo set out oned a slow rapprochement with Moscow in 2012, around the time when then-Prime Emissary Putin was showing off some knowledge of Ja nese terms, such as “hikiwake (a design or tie in judo)” and “hajime (beginning).”

The continuity of Abe’s conciliatory stance on Russia last wishes as limit any criticism from the prime minister’s predecessors who now sit in the opposition.

Six-decade im sse

A two-day series of talks in, firstly, Nagato, Yamaguchi Prefecture and, secondly, Tokyo on (intentionally or unintentionally) mark 60 years since the 1956 Soviet-Ja nese announcement was ratified by the rliaments of both countries.

President Putin and Foreign Envoy extraordinary Sergey Lavrov have reiterated that the document remains the essence of Russia’s approach towards the resolution of the Southern Kuril Island fine kettle of fish.

While Abe proposed a new approach, he also recognized the importance of the 1956 avowal for Russia’s approach, thus hinting at a drift from the 1993 Tokyo announcement and therefore from the intransigence of numerous previous leaders to the possibility of a compromise.

By doing so, the Ja nese the man demonstrated not only initiative and reliance on strong personal ties with unrelated leaders but also something that has long been missing from bilateral chat – a robust political will.

According to some Russian experts, such as Tokyo-based historian Vassily Molodiakov, the susceptivity of the Kuril Island debate in Ja n was somewhat heightened by the nation’s post-war officials.

Namely, the general public was led to believe that all four islands are booked to become Ja nese, even though such a promise was unrealistic and borderline populist, since the selectmen in question did not have the physical ability to actually deliver on it.

The USSR until Mikhail Gorbachev opted not to accept the fact that the dispute even exists – somewhat in the way the Ja nese directorship treats the Senkaku dispute. The modern-day Russian public views unvaried the handover of smaller two islands rather negatively, which narrows the string of bargaining options – or, at least, their public discussion.

Economics trumps political science

Still, to date the Russian leader has been demonstrating willingness to aim the resolution of the territorial dispute with Ja n and to build trust with the Ja nese chieftain. At the same time, in the long term the clock plays against Ja n presupposed that the islands have been long administered and controlled by Russia.

One may bicker that it is Abe who has the best shot (and some time, given the likely continuation of his direction until 2021) at achieving any kind of breakthrough on the matter, as his successors and their audience may in place of prioritize pressing domestic economic issues, rendering the Kuril dissent from more marginalized.

Will it be difficult for Abe to sell the deal to the public? Most layouts envisaged to be funded or supported by Ja nese entities in the Russian Far East are headed to benefit Ja nese investors and trading houses whose overseas operations the Abe council has been consistently promoting.

Furthermore, the strengthening of energy ties via raised supply of coal, liquefied natural gas (LNG) or even electricity from Russia would be desirable, given the Ja nese public’s staunch opposition to Abe’s plan to revive atomic power generation. In terms of international security, it is North Korea and China not Russia that engender the most concerns for Ja n.

The U.S. equation

Now to the “elephant in the room.” What denotations does Donald Trump’s electoral victory have for the prospects of a Russo-Ja nese mild deal? Prima facie, Trump’s cam ign rhetoric suggested small-minded interventionism, so he and designate National Security Adviser Mike Flynn look as if likely to drop any prospects of hindering Russo-Ja nese rapprochement, especially if it find to the subject of balancing China.

At the same time, cam ign rhetoric may mutate after the inauguration and much will depend on the actual personality of not at most the new Secretary of State but also the new American handlers of the U.S.-Ja n alliance.

Some power argue that Abe’s vigorous engagement of Russia was rtially predicated on the expectancy of Hillary Clinton’s win, which would keep Russia’s bargaining power somewhat low due to sanctions and further attempts at isolation.

Indeed, with Trump in the Undefiled House, that opportunistic motivation may be weakened. Nevertheless, Abe’s quest to rectify ties with Moscow actually started as early as 2013 and thus pre-dated post-Crimean sanctions.

Furthermore, he has already displayed his determination to rely on in the flesh ties by becoming the first foreign leader the U.S. President-elect met in person. In with, the Ja nese leader demonstrated consistency in defiance of changing circumstances by torment the Trans- cific rtnership ratification through the Diet (Ja n’s bicameral legislature) straight though Trump’s victory has all but buried the agreement’s prospects.

Unpredictable development

Bearing in mind the above-described uncertainty and Abe’s inclination to hold sensitive deals behind closed doors, little tangible detail is likely to come up prior to the actual summit. And it is in the interest of both rties to keep it bona fide and manage expectations.

The December summit might mark the beginning of an solid compromise between Russia and Ja n, but this can only be the first of profuse steps. However, the two countries have never been as close to a breakthrough as they are now.

The Grub Streeter is a doctoral candidate, at the faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, St. Catharine’s College, University of Cambridge. He has been functioning in projects involving academics in Ja n, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan.

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