The Japanese government has been in discussions for an agreement with Russia but it is clear that these both PM Abe and President Putin are focusing on each other and the deal and not taking into account they wishes of their citizens. In a recent poll, 72 percent of the Russian public have said that they feel Russia should not return any of the four islands now in Russian hands.
These talks between PM Abe and President Putin have continue and although it is not reported in the press, there is more talk speaking that PM Abe is pushing for deal that could be decided at the G20 in June. In a recent Nikkei survey in January, only 11 percent of Japanese respondents said that they are willing to take two of the four contested islands. If in fact, Japan would accept a deal for the two smallest islands, this would total only 7 percent of the total land of the four islands.
This is not the first time the two nations sat down and tried to resolve this issue. Note that bank in April of 1998, in what is called the Kawana Summit, Japanese Prime Minister, Ryutaro Hashimoto, and Russian President Boris Yeltsin sat down for talks. The current talks are now being called the Kawana-2 by the press. While this current round of discussions only focuses on two of the four islands, the original negotiations in 1998 included all four islands.
Since these talks started the Japanese position has softened while the Russian position has clearly hardened. Recently, Foreign Ministry Sergei Lavrov has demanded that before any talks move forward, that Japan accept the Russian demand that since WWII, the islands were in fact Russian territory, which of course Japan cannot do as it was Japanese sovereign territory for hundreds of years.
Mr Abe has made the Japan – Russia relationship his top talking point in 2018 and 2019. More on this discussion in the coming weeks and months.