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MOSCOW, May 28. /ITAR-TASS/. Tokyo has joined the West in its anti-Russian sanctions, while Russia has pivoted towards China - Russian experts differ on outlook for Russia’s further relations with its eastern neighbor.
In an interview to The Wall Street Journal on Monday, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared his willingness to continue dialogue with Russia, in particular, over the disputed Kuril Islands - the issue he is going to discuss with the Russian President Vladimir Putin. The meeting agreed during Abe’s visit to the Sochi Olympics’s opening could take place in autumn, the Japanese prime minister said.
Over the past two years Abe's government has consistently sought to improve relations with Russia. Yet the crisis in Ukraine and Tokyo’s support for the Western sanctions made some Japanese observers doubt the visit would take place.
Even so, Japanese sanctions seem demonstrative and reluctant, introducing only formal limitations. The country adopted no economic sanctions, while the list of Russian officials banned from entering Japan was approved but not announced. The policy, however, has caused a negative response in Moscow.
On Saturday, Vladimir Putin met the heads of the leading news agencies in St. Petersburg and said he was ready to discuss any issues with Japan, including the territorial dispute.
“We are ready but were surprised to hear Japan had joined sanctions. I do not really understand what Japan has to do with that. We are ready, but is Japan (ready)? I still do not quite understand,” he said.
The new turn of Russian-Chinese rapprochement, interpreted by many as a signal of possible strategic alliance, is another aspect of bilateral relations. Experts say Tokyo is far from excited by this prospect given the sharp differences between Japan and China, the territorial dispute being not the least.
Putin asked to draw no parallels, “We do not make friends to antagonize others. We have our relations with Japan, while China has its own relations with Japan. We have no reasons to downgrade ties with Japan.”
The Japanese sanctions are not irreversible and will hardly harm bilateral relations, believes the head of the Department of Oriental Studies at MGIMO University, Professor Viktor Streltsov. “Japan faces with a dilemma - a choice between Western solidarity and its wish to develop ties with Russia, a very tough task for Japan,” the expert told ITAR-TASS. The Japanese sanctions were rather aimed at producing a psychological than practical effect and did not affect economic relations, he said, and Putin’s visit to Japan would bring the relations to a new level.
Russia’s relations with China “by no means hamper normal relations with Japan, Vietnam, the Philippines or any other country in the region”.
“In its Asian policy, Russia refrains from forming blocs with some countries against others,” Streltsov said.
Some experts disagree. “This decline in relations with Tokyo is not fatal, but these sanctions have certainly had their negative effect on further cooperation,” senior research fellow at the at the Center for Japanese Studies of the Institute of Far Eastern Studies Viktor Kuzminkov told ITAR-TASS. “We’d rather not have a conflict with Japan, but we cannot ignore unfriendly gestures, though the sanctions are token ones,” he said. Japan, the expert remarks, has proved an unreliable partner”.
The ball now is in Japan’s court. “If it stops tossing and turning, some progress will be possible,” he said. This, he believes, will determine the date of Putin’s visit and the future of Kuril-related talks.
As for Moscow-Beijing relations, the expert said, “We would like to equally cooperate with both China and Japan, but the Japanese are pushing us into China’s arms.”
“Japan will do its best to retain the existing cooperation potential, but Moscow will find it hard to turn a blind eye on the Japanese sanctions,” said the leading researcher at the Center for Japanese Studies, Viktor Pavlyatenko, quoted by the Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily. Whether they are formal or not, does not matter, he believes. “Putin’s words are a signal to Japan it will have to brace for the consequences of its actions that have certainly harmed bilateral relations."
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