President Vladimir Putin suggested on Wednesday that Russia and Japan sign a peace agreement "without preconditions" before the end of the year, a historic proposal to try to resolve a territorial dispute after decades of stagnation.
Putin's sudden proposal came just two days after he said it was unlikely that the territorial dispute between the two countries would be resolved soon.
The dispute between Russia and Japan centers on the four southernmost islands of the Kuril chain that the Soviet Union occupied at the end of World War II in 1945, but are claimed by Japan.
It has prevented the two countries from signing a peace agreement.
"We have been trying to resolve the territorial dispute for 70 years, we have been talking for 70 years," Putin told an economic forum in the Russian city of Vladivostok, in the east of the country, attended by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the Chinese leader. Xi. Jinping
We have been trying to resolve the territorial dispute for 70 years
"Shinzo said:" Let's change our approaches. "We are going to conclude a peace agreement, not now until the end of the year without preconditions, said Putin, with the audience breaking into applause.
"It's not a joke," Putin added, suggesting that the two countries commit to resolving the territorial dispute in the text of the agreement.
Putin said that the conclusion of such an agreement would create a better atmosphere and allow the two countries to "continue solving all pending issues as friends".
"It seems to me that this would facilitate the solution of all the problems that we have not been able to solve during the last 70 years."
The Japanese prime minister, for his part, said that the two countries "have a duty to future generations."
"Let's walk together considering the questions. If we do not do it now, when? & # 39; And if we do not, who will?", Said Abe, speaking before Putin. "We are both fully aware that it will not be easy."
On Monday, Putin seemed to pour cold water on suggestions that the dispute could be resolved soon.
"It would be naive to think that it can be resolved quickly," Putin said after meeting with Abe on the forum.
& # 39; Putin trolls Abe & # 39;
But some diplomats said the proposal was not initial.
A former Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia, Georgy Kunadze, said he doubted that Putin wanted to solve the territorial problem seriously.
"This is called trolling, Putin does not expect anything," Kunadze told Echo of the Moscow radio station.
He suggested that Abe would never accept a deal that would be political suicide.
Putin and Abe have held numerous meetings in recent years in an attempt to resolve the dispute over islands known in Japan as the Northern Territories.
The two countries have launched several economic projects on the islands in areas such as fish and shellfish farming, wind energy and tourism.
Since last year, Tokyo and Moscow have also agreed to charter flights for former inhabitants of the Japanese islands to visit family graves there.
Officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia and Japan said that work on the future agreement will continue as usual.
"The government will continue its negotiations on the basic principle that we will sign a peace treaty after resolving the issue of the attribution of the Four Islands of the North," Japanese cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters.
"This position has not changed."
In Moscow, Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov told Russian news agencies that Putin's announcement would not require any change in the current format of the negotiations.
The Kurils, which are located north of the Japanese island of Hokkaido, have been controlled by Moscow since they were taken by Soviet troops in the last days of World War II.
The four islands are known in Russian as Iturup, Shikotan, Habomai and Kunashir.
Putin's predecessor, Dmitry Medvedev, visited Kunashir in 2010, becoming the first Russian leader to do so and causing fury in Tokyo.