Japan Wants Closer Relations With Russia. Good Luck With That.

May 25, 2018 | 08:30 GMT

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, third from right, and Russian President Vladimir Putin watch a judo performance in Tokyo on Dec. 16, 2016.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin have met 20 times over the past six years, including in Tokyo in December 2016, where they watched a judo performance. Scandal has put Abe's political career in jeopardy, adding urgency to his bid to improve relations with Russia.



  • The Japanese prime minister's political troubles will add urgency to his country's bid to improve relations with Russia and resolve their long-standing dispute over contested islands.
  • But the ongoing standoff between Russia and the United States, lackluster Japanese investment in Russia and Moscow's concerns about sovereignty leave little room for a breakthrough that would move beyond the incremental progress of recent years.
  • That said, Russia will maintain its outreach to Japan to gain leverage in the U.S. camp and in an effort to counterbalance China.

With China rising in the Pacific and Japan increasingly frozen out of the Korean Peninsula, Tokyo is hoping for a win with Russia. Warming ties with Moscow would serve Japan's interests well, giving it a greater foothold on the Eurasian landmass and helping it to counterbalance the tentative alignment between China and Russia. In fact, this has been a key goal for Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe since his most recent term as prime minister began in 2012. With Abe's political fortunes in jeopardy and his continued tenure as prime minister in question after September, he will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin on May 25 and attend numerous events marking the start of what's being called the "Year of Japan-Russia." Domestically, this is an opportunity for Abe to show he has the ability to score a diplomatic victory at a fragile time in his political career. However, Japan has...

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