MOSCOW, August 31. /TASS/. Russian President Vladimir Putin and outgoing Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in a phone conversation highlighted the importance of continuing efforts on strengthening good neighborly relations between Russia and Japan, the Kremlin press service said on Monday.
"Both sides stressed the importance of continuing efforts on strengthening good neighborly relations between Russia and Japan in the interests of the two countries’ nations, security and stability of the entire Asia-Pacific Region," the statement reads.
Putin thanked Abe, with whom they held 26 personal meetings, for their joint work and great personal contribution to developing bilateral cooperation. "In light of Shinzo Abe’s decision to step down as prime minister, Vladimir Putin thanked him for the joint efforts and great personal contribution to the development of bilateral cooperation. The Japanese prime minister, in turn, spoke highly of long-standing constructive interaction with the Russian president," the statement runs.
According to the Kremlin press service, the conversation was initiated by Russia.
Japan’s Kyodo news agency earlier reported about Putin-Abe phone conversation. The report said that the two leaders had confirmed plans to hold talks on signing a peace treaty in the future. However, the Kremlin did not give such details of the conversation.
The Russian president was the second world leader, with whom Abe held talks after announcing his upcoming resignation. Earlier on Monday, he talked with US President Donald Trump.
Abe’s decision and peace treaty
On August 28, Prime Minister Abe announced his plans to step down citing his worsening health. He also told the ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito party that he was not planning to appoint an acting prime minister. He will continue fulfilling his duties until the Liberal Democratic Party presents a candidate to succeed him. Japan will elect the new prime minister on September 14 and the parliament will approve him as the head of government on September 17.
Russia and Japan have been in talks to sign a peace treaty since the mid-20th century. The main stumbling block to achieving this is the ownership issue over the Southern Kuril Islands, called the Northern Territories in Japan. After the end of World War II, the Kuril Islands were incorporated into the Soviet Union. However, the ownership of Iturup, Kunashir, Shikotan Islands and the Habomai Islands has been challenged by Japan. The Russian Foreign Ministry has repeatedly said that Russia’s sovereignty over these islands, which is committed to paper in international documents, cannot be called in question.
In November 2018, Putin and Abe held a meeting on the sidelines of the ASEAN summit in Singapore and agreed that the two countries would accelerate the pace of the peace negotiations based on the 1956 Joint Declaration. The declaration ended the state of war and said that the Soviet government was ready to hand Shikotan Island and a group of small islands called Habomai over to Japan on condition that Tokyo would take control of them once a peace treaty was signed.
In May 2019, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov highlighted that the document clearly said that the border issue could be only considered after signing a peace treaty.