Negotiations are ongoing between Japan and Russia over the Kuril Islands, a territorial dispute that has long been a major obstacle in bilateral relations. Determined to find a common denominator with Russia’s Putin, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been banking on shuttle diplomacy, making frequent trips to Russia. These visits, coupled with lucrative economic offers, strive to soften Putin’s unyielding approach to the Kuril dispute. Yet the back-and-forth between the two leaders has failed to produce anything meaningful thus far. In the meantime, Russia continues to benefit from these economic deals, all the while solidifying its military position in the Kuril Islands. Abe on the other hand seeks to score some points for upcoming Diet elections. Nevertheless, the public-at-large and many Japan observers are beginning to take Abe’s “Kuril gamble” with a generous grain of salt. In fact, the latest meeting with Putin once again confirmed the divergent outlooks of Moscow and Tokyo and simply left the status quo intact.
Abe may have succeeded in connecting with Putin on a personal level, but it’s highly unlikely that Russia will sacrifice its strategic position on the Kuril Islands.