Earlier this week, Vladimir Putin sent a signal to Shinzo Abe about his unwillingness to compromise over the disputed Kuril islands. Abe is responding, Reuters reports:
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Friday Russia’s deployment of missile systems on islands in the western Pacific isles that are also claimed by Tokyo was “regrettable”.
His comments came less than a month before Russian President Vladimir Putin is to visit Japan for talks aimed at progress on the decades-old territorial row. Moscow has already said it hoped the deployment would not damage efforts to settle the dispute.
Russian media reported on Tuesday that Bastion and Bal anti-ship missile systems were now in operation on the islands, part of an archipelago in the Pacific Ocean over which Russia and Japan have staked rival claims for 70 years.
Abe has made no secret of his desire to settle things with Moscow, but the Kremlin hasn’t been very cooperative. For each optimistic leak from Tokyo, there’s a less enthusiastic Moscow-sourced story or, in the case of Kremlin spokesman Dimitri Peskov’s comments earlier this year, a clear public denial.
Abe hopes that he can build up alliances with regional powers up north and thus better position his country in a geopolitical struggle with China. He’s had success with South Korea, largely because of Pyongyang’s restiveness. But Putin is playing hard-to-get. While it’s possible that things could turn around at the Tokyo summit, the Kuril islands conflict is looking like it will still be with us as the world heads toward greater geopolitical uncertainty.