Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is preparing to visit Moscow, where he will sit down with Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss North Korea and other matters.
“I would like to confirm cooperation in resolving the North Korea issue," Abe told journalists Monday ahead of the meeting. Top foreign affairs and defense officials from both countries will also meet over the coming week. Experts say that Abe, whose country lives in fear of a nuclear North Korea, is preparing a contingency plan in case the upcoming summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un doesn’t produce results.
"For Japan, Russia could be a useful partner to help put pressure on Pyongyang, especially as Moscow has been accused on several occasions of not fully enforcing sanctions [against North Korea]. The Putin government does have a decent relationship with the Kim regime, and could prove useful,” Harry Kazianis, director of defense studies at the Center for the National Interest, a public policy think tank in Washington, told Newsweek.
"Japan could be worried that if a Trump-Kim summit fails, and especially if U.S.-Russia relations were to get worse, Russia could act as a spoiler when it comes to North Korea. They could easily damage the sanctions regime, aid Pyongyang with advanced air defense aid and much more. For Japan, North Korea is an existential issue--and Russia could make it far worse,” Kazianis continued.
The U.S. relationship with Russia has soured over the Kremlin's attempts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The U.S. has worked closely with China and South Korea, however, to facilitate the upcoming meeting with Pyongyang. Japan's Abe has worked to maintain a positive relationship with Trump and joined U.S. calls for the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
During the meetings between Russian and Japanese officials, Tokyo is also expected to lobby for charter flights to begin ferrying Japanese citizens to the South Kuril Islands to visit the graves of their ancestors. The four islands are at the center of a dispute between Russia and Japan, which have not signed a peace treaty after World War II because of their disagreement over their sovereignty. Russia took control of the territory in 1949 and subsequently deported all of its Japanese residents. Moscow permitted Japanese citizens to visit the islands visa-free last year, and Japan is pushing for this to become an annual occurrence.
The meetings between the two leaders will take place between May 24 and 27.
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