Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Yeltsin's Japan trip in doubt, aide says

President Boris Yeltsin's planned trip to Japan may not take place in September, according to a senior Russian parliamentary expert on foreign policy.


Professor Viktor Sheinis, a leading member of the Supreme Soviet's Committee on International Relations and a political supporter of the president, has just returned to Moscow from Tokyo.


In an interview, Sheinis said he had warned Japanese officials and businessmen that Tokyo's position on the future of the four Kurile islands was "too tough" and that the Russian government of acting Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar could not accept the demand for recognition of Japanese sovereignty at this stage.


Tokyo is demanding an agreement on the transfer of sovereignty of the islands and the signing of a peace treaty with Russia before it will release more government aid to Moscow and underwrite investment by Japanese companies.


The government assistance promised by Japan, but still withheld, includes a large share of the $6 billion fund for stabilizing the ruble plus several billion dollars in government pledges.


By making settlement of the islands issue the precondition for a peace treaty and financial assistance, Sheinis said, the Japanese have failed to take account of the attitude of Russian society.


"The concession of these islands can undermine the positions of Gaidar and Yeltsin", Sheinis warned.


The four islands in the Sea of Okhotsk north of the Japanese island of Hokkaido were colonized by Russia in the 19th century. They were taken by Japan as one of the spoils of its victory over Russia in the war of 1905. Russia retook the islands - Kunashir, Iturup, Shikotan and Habomai - after the defeat of Japan in World War II.


A change in the status of Shikotan and Habomai was proposed by the Russians in 1956. But this was not implemented following Japan's decision to ally itself militarily with the United States.


Sheinis, 61, an economics professor, carries special weight in government and parliamentary circles for his moderate and democratic views. He was elected to the Supreme Soviet from a Moscow constituency as an anticommunist member of the Democratic Russia movement. In his early career he was punished for his dissident views.


Sheinis is not associated with the nationalist opposition in the Supreme Soviet, who have accused Yeltsin, as well as Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev, of contemplating a sell-out of Russian territory in exchange for Japanese cash.


He is "sympathetic", he says, to Kozyrev, and is critical of the "small group of persons in parliament who use foreign policy to attack the government".


Nonetheless, Sheinis said, "now is not a very favorable time for this visit".


A senior government official confirmed this week that planning for Yeltsin's visit to Tokyo, which is due to start on September 15, is still underway.


But according to Sheinis, "I will not be surprised if it is postponed for the future".


He said there was not enough time for detailed work on the 15 agreements he believes are needed to regulate the future of the Kurile islands.


The Russian government has proposed a number of options for joint economic development, free movement across existing borders, and with drawal of troops. Japanese officials according to Sheinis, insist on a Russian declaration conceding sovereignty ahead of negotiations on these particulars.


He said that the majority of parliament would vote against ratifying this concession. "If this visit will take place and if some radical decisions will be signed", he said, "it will not be supported by our deputies".


The Congress of People's Deputie is scheduled to meet in October, little more than a fortnight after Yeltsin scheduled visit to Tokyo. The parliamentary opposition is already threatening a vote of no-confidence in tt Yeltsin government at that time.


Sheinis said he has advised Japanese officials to "work with our opinion polls", and to develop "political are economic fruits" before tackling'the territorial issue. This, he said, "should take time".