Japan, Russia Agree on Putin Visit as Peace Negotiations Restart

Japan and Russia committed to a Tokyo visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin after the two neighbors agreed to restart peace negotiations following a break that lasted more than a year and a half.

“It’s a step forward,” Japanese Foreign Ministry chief spokesman Yasuhisa Kawamura said in an interview in Moscow, commenting on the decision to hold a new round of talks aimed at resolving a World War II territorial dispute next month.

Four islands, called the Southern Kurils by Russia and the Northern Territories by Japan, were seized by Soviet forces in the last days of the war. Japan has demanded their return, while Russia has offered in the past to give back two of them. As a result, the countries never signed a peace treaty.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov urged Japan to accept “post-war historical realities” at a joint news conference in Moscow with his Japanese counterpart Fumio Kishida on Monday. The upcoming round of talks scheduled for Oct. 8 in the Russian capital “will be hard work,” Lavrov added, noting that Russian and Japanese positions “still differ greatly.” In April 2013, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Putin agreed after talks in Moscow that the Russian leader would visit Japan by the end of 2015, and that the two sides would seek a “mutually acceptable” solution to the island dispute.

Ties have been strained since the Japanese decision to adopt sanctions against Russia over the Ukraine conflict in line with other members of the Group of 7 industrialized nations.