Russia and Japan on the Way towards Fully Normalized Relations

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The “Rethinking Russia” think tank presents the comments of Dmitry Streltsov, PhD in History, the Head of the Department of Afro-Asian Studies and Professor, Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO-University), on Shinzo Abe’s visit to Moscow.

Above all, one should view Shinzo Abe’s visit to Moscow through the lenses of comprehensive normalization of Russia-Japan relations. Of all the G7 members, Japan favors Russia most, with the sanctions regime being of a nominal character. The Japanese leadership is perfectly aware of the negative impact of its counterproductive approach towards Russia, which is why the parties have recently started to signal their willingness to develop their dialogue.

It is the 17th meeting of the two leaders since Abe took office. In bilateral interaction a personality factor is of crucial importance. That means that if the two leaders remain in power during the next political cycles – and this scenario is most likely to unfold – Russia and Japan will be able to constructively cooperate with each another over the next few years.

As regards the meeting’s outcomes, one should, first of all, highlight their international political character.

First and foremost, the two parties exchanged views on global and regional security issues, particularly on the recently increased tensions on the Korean Peninsula[1]. Seeing the Korean conflict through the prism of its national security, Japan’s leadership wants to reconcile and exchange its ideas with Russia. From my perspective, Abe regarded the matter as a priority task at the negotiating table. Moreover, Russia and Japan touched upon the Syrian war. Despite the divergence of opinions, the very dialogue on Syria played an important role.

Secondly, the deployment of THAAD, an anti-missile defense system, to South Korea is a regional security priority, which was previously stated at the two-plus-two[2] meeting. I would like to reiterate that a constructive dialogue held in a warm atmosphere and based on the mutual interest, is just as important as the consensus reached.

Moreover, the Abe-Putin summit in Russia also spotlighted the matter related to the Southern Kurils, focusing on their joint economic development and the visa-free regime. It would be of importance to people whose relatives are buried there. From this perspective, the matter revolves around universal human values and receives the relevant treatment from political leaders of both nations. Consider an illustrative example when the adherence to universal values in politics became central to Japan’s political success. In 2002, Junichiro Koizumi, the then Prime Minister of Japan, paid a visit to Pyongyang. The parties failed to achieve any breakthrough at the bilateral negotiations, but the very fact that Koizumi addressed universal issues allowed him to score the needed points and his approval rating to surge. Shinzo Abe followed his predecessor’s suit. Moreover, international ties, including economic relations, are vital for the prime minister. In this regard, joint economic development of the South Kuril Islands is valuable for both parties. My previous comment to “Rethinking Russia” argued that the interaction pattern had the necessary prerequisites to notch up success; now we can say that it has acquired specific content[3].

 My overall assessment of the outcomes is optimistic. The leaders talked a lot behind closed doors, but even the statements made at the press conference suggest that Russia and Japan – “a good neighbor” to borrow Putin’s expression – are progressing in the right direction.

Photo: © RIA, Mikhail Klimentev

[1] For more detail see the “Lessons of Annual Crises” comment:

[2] For more detail about the Russia-Japan two-plus-two meeting  see:

[3] See Streltsov’s comments on Putin’s visit to Japan: 

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