Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe shake hands at the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok. Photo: AFP / Alexander Vilf / Sputnik

Fresh from his pancake diplomacy date with China’s President Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin served up the main dish on Wednesday – a possible breakthrough in Russian-Japanese relations.

In a sudden about turn, Russia’s President suggested that a historic peace deal “without any preconditions” could be signed by the end of the year.

His comments came just days after confessing that the territorial dispute between Japan and Russia, which has dragged on for decades, was unlikely to be resolved in the near future.

“We have been trying to solve the territorial dispute for 70 years,” Putin said on the second day of the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, which has brought together global leaders, such as Xi and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

At the heart of the dispute, which dates back to the end of World War II, are the four southernmost islands in the Kuril chain.

These were occupied by the old Soviet Union in 1945 but have always been claimed by Japan. So far, this diplomatic roadblock has stopped the two countries from signing a peace accord.

But now, Putin is pushing for a breakthrough.

“Shinzo said, ‘Let’s change our approach.” [So,] let’s conclude a peace agreement by year’s end without any preconditions,” Putin said at a media briefing. “It is not a joke.”

The Russian President stressed that putting together a deal would create a better atmosphere and allow the two countries to “continue to solve all outstanding issues like friends.”

“Let us walk together mindful of the questions, ‘If we don’t do it now, then when?’ And ‘if we don’t do it, then who will?’” Abe added. “We are both fully aware that it will not be easy.”

“It seems that this would facilitate the solution of all problems which we have not been able to solve during the past 70 years,” Putin added.

For his part, Abe said that the two countries “have a duty to future generations.”

“Let us walk together mindful of the questions, ‘If we don’t do it now, then when?’ And ‘if we don’t do it, then who will?’” Abe added. “We are both fully aware that it will not be easy.”

Still, a former Russian Deputy Foreign Minister, Georgy Kunadze, felt this could be political posturing from Putin. “It is called trolling. Putin does not expect anything,” Kunadze told Echo of Moscow radio station.

He also suggested that Abe would never accept a deal that would be “political suicide.”

In response, Russian and Japanese foreign ministry officials pointed out that work on a future agreement would 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 Northern Islands,” Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said. “This stance hasn’t changed.”

In Moscow, Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov told Russian news agencies that the announcement would not require any changes to the current format of negotiations.

Yet Putin’s move comes less than 24 hours after he cooked pancakes alongside Xi with both presidents insisting that their “friendship was getting stronger all the time.”

Sushi, of course, would be on the menu if he and Abe finally end this 70-year-old stalemate.

– Reporting by AFP

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