Russian president Vladimir Putin has arrived in Tokyo for a three-day visit to Japan.
Moscow and Tokyo want to put economic incentives above politics – Putin has brought a delegation of 100 business leaders to boost trade with Japan, which is worth more than seven billion euros a year. Japan is expected to try to convince Russia to build its huge oil pipeline to the Pacific rather than to China.
But analysts believe the visit is unlikely to bring any progress in settling a 60-year old territorial dispute over a handful of tiny Pacific islands.
Putin’s arrival was greeted with loud protests from ultra-nationalists who are demanding the islands be returned to Japan.
The row over the four islands, known as the Northern Territories in Japan and the Southern Kuriles in Russia, has tainted relations between Tokyo and Moscow for much of the 20th century, and has always prevented them from signing a final peace treaty. They were seized by the Soviet army in the closing day of World War Two. Russia has offered to return two of them – a proposal firmly rejected by Japan.
While the islands themselves offer no wealth of resources, their location in the rich fishing grounds of the North Pacific has long makde them an enviable economic asset.