NAGATO, Japan: Russia and Japan will hold a summit at a hot spring on Thursday aimed at reaching a deal over a group of small islands that have prevented the countries from formally ending their World War II hostilities.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will host Russian President Vladimir Putin in his ancestral city of Nagato in hopes of achieving a breakthrough over the territory off Japan’s northern coast seized by Soviet troops in 1945.
The four islands are known as the Southern Kurils in Russia and the Northern Territories in Japan, and the dispute has been a thorn in relations for more than seven decades.
Abe would like to seal a deal as soon as possible as Japanese former residents are ageing and dwindling in number.
Despite months of preparation, the outlook is not good, with both sides recently damping down expectations of major progress.
“I want to go into this summit with determination to end the issue in my generation,” Abe told former residents earlier this week, suggesting an agreement remains distant.
Putin, a judo fan who is making his first visit to Japan in more than a decade, said he wanted to end the “anachronism” of the two countries not having a World War II peace treaty.
“But how to do this is a difficult question,” he told Japanese media.
The opening of the two-day meeting was likely to be delayed somewhat as the Japanese government said it was informed Putin’s plane departed from Russia later than expected.
“I hope to spend time to negotiate in a quiet atmosphere at night,” Abe told reporters before departing for the venue.
His comment was an apparent reference to the hot springs in the area in western Japan, where a heavy security presence has been put in place.
For Abe, the issue is also a “legacy” from his late father Shintaro, who took the lead in negotiations with Moscow as a foreign minister but died in 1991 after pushing for talks while suffering from cancer.
The summit is the latest attempt to draw a line under World War II since Japan and the Soviet Union began discussions in 1956.
In Nagato, Abe and Putin are expected to focus on territorial and peace treaty issues, a Japanese foreign ministry official said.
The two leaders will then move to Tokyo on Friday for more talks and a joint press appearance before attending an economic forum.
Abe has looked to eke out concessions by dangling the prospect of major Japanese investment in front of Moscow, which is mired in economic crisis.
But few believe Putin is likely to cave to Japanese demands to hand back at least some control over the islands, especially after Donald Trump’s election as president of the United States last month.
The New York real-estate baron has vowed to improve ties with Russia, where the economy has reeled under US sanctions against Moscow over Ukraine and the impact of falling oil prices.