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Russia halts WWII peace treaty talks with Japan in response to sanctions over Ukraine invasion

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, on left; Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Sean Gallup and Rodrigo Reyes Marin/Getty Images)
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TOKYO — Russia said Monday it would halt negotiations with Japan regarding a post-World War II peace treaty in response to Tokyo’s escalating sanctions over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine — the latest sign of deteriorating bilateral relations.

In a statement, the Russian Foreign Ministry said the country has no intention of continuing peace talks, which had been stalled since 2020. It blamed Japan for its “anti-Russian policy” and said it would terminate visa-free trips by Japanese citizens to a chain of islands between Japan and Russia, and withdraw from joint economic projects on the islands.

Japan has imposed wide-reaching economic sanctions on Russia since last month, in a dramatic turn away from its years of rapprochement with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Japan and Russia never signed a formal peace treaty ending World War II hostilities because of a long-running territorial dispute over the islands off Hokkaido, in northern Japan. The two countries signed a joint declaration in 1956 ending the state of war but have not signed an actual peace treaty.

Japan has sought to show a strong response to the Russian invasion alongside the Group of Seven major economies, particularly amid concerns that Russia’s invasion could embolden an increasingly assertive China, especially in regard to the self-ruled island of Taiwan that Beijing considers a breakaway province.

Russia’s invasion prompts more assertive foreign policy from Japan

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Japan “strongly protested” Russia’s decision.

“The current situation has arisen completely as a result of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, and Russia’s response to try to shift this onto Japan-Russia relations is extremely unjustified and absolutely unacceptable,” Kishida said.

Tokyo and Moscow have held peace negotiations on and off since the 1956 declaration, most recently during the tenure of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who worked to improve relations with Russia. Abe, who stepped down in 2020, made the peace treaty and territorial settlement with Putin one of his diplomatic priorities. He met with Putin 27 times over eight years in an effort to make Moscow a strategic partner and keep it from drawing closer to China.

Key Asian nations join global backlash against Russia, with an eye toward China

Since 2020, however, the bilateral relationship has cooled, as Russia has not altered its relations with China or its stance toward the territorial dispute with Japan that dates to World War II.

On Monday, shortly after the ministry’s announcement, the Russian Embassy in London tweeted a photo of the islands — which Japan claims and Russia occupies — using the Russian name for them.

In response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Tokyo has taken an increasingly assertive approach, ramping up sanctions, including by revoking Russia’s “most favored nation” trade status and targeting Russian financial institutions and elites.

Tokyo has pledged at least $100 million in emergency humanitarian assistance to Ukraine and taken the unusual step of accepting Ukrainian refugees. Japan also has begun shipping helmets and other nonlethal military gear, another extraordinary step by a country that has a self-imposed arms export ban because of its militaristic past.

Julia Mio Inuma contributed to this report.

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