TOKYO, September 26. /TASS/. Japan and Russia were closest to signing a peace treaty in 2018, during a meeting between then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin, the former head of the Japanese government said in an interview with Japan’s Nikkei business newspaper.
Speaking about the reasons that prevented the peace treaty from being signed, Abe mentioned "escalating tensions between Washington and Moscow" following the events in Ukraine in 2014.
The former premier also said that no matter what kind of agreement Japan and Russia had managed to achieve, he would have been ready to dissolve the parliament and announce early elections, giving the Japanese people the right to have their say on the deal between Tokyo and Moscow.
During that period, many Japanese media reported that the two nations were discussing the possible handover of two out of the four disputed southern Kuril islands to Japan. This information was never officially confirmed.
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, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe held a meeting in Singapore and agreed that Moscow and Tokyo would speed up peace treaty talks based on the 1956 Joint Declaration. The document ended the state of war and said that the Soviet government was ready to hand Shikotan Island and a group of small islands over to Japan on condition that Tokyo would take control of them once a peace treaty is signed.