Japan officially recognized the Russian Federation as the successor-state to the USSR on January 27, 1992. Since then, relations between Russia and Japan have made substantial progress. Today, these relations are characterized by a mutual adherence to democratic values, the absence of ideological and military confrontation, and a mutual interest in international cooperation. At the same time, as both sides realize, the potential for cooperation between Russia and Japan, particularly in the economic arena, has not yet been fully realized.
A peace treaty has not yet been concluded between the two countries, due to Tokyo's groundless territorial claims to the southern Kuril Islands. However, the state of belligerency between the two countries ended at the time of the signing of the Soviet-Japanese Joint Declaration in 1956, which envisaged restoration of diplomatic relations.
During a meeting of the leaders of the two countries in Los-Cabos, in Mexico, on June 18, 2012, they agreed to continue their dialogue with one another in order to address the matter of the peace treaty, while working together in a calm and respectful manner aimed at achieving a mutually acceptable solution. They also confirmed their willingness to further develop bilateral relations with a stress on deepening economic cooperation (including cooperation within the sphere of energy production) and wider interaction in the Asia-Pacific region and the international arena.
As a result of the top-level talks a Russian-Japanese Action Plan was adopted in 2003. It is an extensive political document outlining the main direction for future work on the promotion of bilateral relations. In particular, it stipulates the promotion of political dialogue, the continuation of talks on the issue of concluding a peace treaty, cooperation in the international, economic, law enforcement and defense spheres of activity, and the deepening of cultural and humanitarian exchange. This document remains the road map for current relations between the two countries.
Political dialogue, especially at the highest level, plays one of the most important roles in Russian-Japanese relations. There were four rounds of talks in 2011-2012: with Prime Minister Naoto Kan, on May 27, 2011 on the sidelines of the G8 summit in Deauville; and with Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, on November 12, 2011 on the sidelines of APEC summit in Honolulu, on June 18, 2012 on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Los Cabos and on September 8, 2012 on the sidelines of APEC summit in Vladivostok.
Bilateral dialogue between the Russian and Japanese governments has made rapid progress lately. The then Chairman of the Government of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, visited Japan in May 2009. During the visit both sides discussed the further promotion of cooperation in the fields of energy production, including nuclear energy; transportation; information technology; space exploration and research; and other areas. Six intergovernmental agreements were signed, including agreements on nuclear energy; customs cooperation; legal assistance in criminal cases; and other areas. On October 14, 2011 Prime Minister Vladimir Putin had a telephone conversation with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda during which the Russian prime minister confirmed a willingness to engage in several joint economic projects.
During a telephone conversation initiated by the Japanese side on March 5, 2012 the Prime Minister of Japan congratulated Mr. Putin on winning the election for the post of President of the Russian Federation.
Former Chief of the Presidential Administration of the Russian Federation (currently – Chairman of the State Duma of the Russian Federation) Sergey Naryshkin participated regularly in the opening and closing ceremonies of annual festivals of Russian culture in Japan.
Contacts between the Russian and Japanese parliaments are progressing as well. The Chairman of the Federation Council of the Russian Federation visited Tokyo in January 2009. During the visit of the Chairman of the House of Councilors of Japan to Russia from October 12-14, 2009, he met Russia's Chairman of the Federation Council, Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov and the Chairman of the State Duma, Boris Gryzlov. On October 26, 2011, a meeting was held between the Chairperson of the Federation Council, Valentina Matvienko and Member of the House of Representatives of Japan, and Chairman of the Japan-Russia Society, Kunio Hatoyama.
Ms. Matvienko also took part in the Asian-Pacific Parliamentary Forum in Tokyo in January of 2012 and engaged in discussions with Japanese leaders, including Prime Minister Noda.
On June 10-11, 2012 the State Duma Chairman Naryshkin visited Japan to participate in the opening ceremony of the Russian Culture Festival in Osaka. He also held talks with the Speakers of both Houses of the Japanese parliament and met Prime Minister Noda; the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Koichiro Gemba, and Japanese business leaders.
The ties between the United Russia party and Japan's biggest parties – the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and the opposition Democratic Party of Japan – are also well established. The Just Russia party in turn is linked to the centrist Komeito party.
The foreign ministers of both countries are also in regular contact with one another. Sergey Lavrov visited Japan from November 5-8, 2008 and Japanese Foreign Minister Kunio Okada visited Russia in December 2009. Ministers also met on the sidelines of the G8 Summit in Gatineau in Canada on March 29, 2010, in addition to speaking with one another by telephone on June 9, 2010. Mr. Lavrov met with the Japanese Minister for Foreign Affairs, Seiji Maehara on the sidelines of the APEC summit on November 13, 2010 in Yokohama. From February 11-12, 2011, Mr. Maehara visited Moscow where he met with Mr. Lavrov and the Chief of Russia's Presidential Administration, Sergey Naryshkin. Mr. Lavrov and Japan's Minister for Foreign Affairs Takeaki Matsumoto held talks on the sidelines of the G8 ministerial meeting in Paris on March 14, 2011. The Russian Foreign Minister spoke with his new Japanese counterpart Koichiro Gemba, newly assigned to his post on September 2, 2011, by telephone on September 9, 2011. The ministers met on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York, on September 21, 2011 and on the sidelines of the APEC ministerial meeting in Honolulu on November 11, 2011. On January 28, 2012, Mr. Lavrov paid a working visit to Tokyo where he engaged in full-scale negotiations with his counterpart, and on April 11, 2012, the ministers met again on the sidelines of the G8 ministerial meeting in Washington. On July 28, 2012, Mr. Gemba visited Sochi where he held talks with Mr. Lavrov and the Russian President Vladimir Putin.
A framework for Russian-Japanese strategic dialogue at the first deputy ministers for foreign affairs level has existed since 2007. Key international problems, particularly those connected to global and regional security are discussed in this framework. The tenth round of strategic dialogue at the level of the first deputy foreign affairs ministers of Russia (Andrey Denisov) and Japan (Kenichiro Sasae) was held in June 2012.
In recent years international cooperation between Russia and Japan has become more active (including addressing such issues as the settlement of the Korean Peninsula issue; counterterrorism; issues of strategic stability; cooperation within the United Nations; and bilateral consultations on Afghanistan, among others). Cooperation in other spheres including those which were previously restricted, has been advancing as well: contacts between the military, as well as the border and law enforcement agencies of Russia and Japan are now making progress.
Regional ties between both countries are developing as well. The Russia-Japan Forum coordinated by the Institute of Contemporary Development and Japan's International Interchanges Fund is regularly held. The Governor of the Irkutsk region, Dmitry Mezentsev leads the Russian delegation.
Progress has been made which now permits Japanese citizens to visit the southern Kuril Islands without requiring a visa and this was started following the conclusion of an Agreement on July 2, 1986 (in the form of an exchange of notes) permitting mutual visits to Japanese and Russian graves in the former territories of the USSR and Japan.
Reciprocal visits by residents of the southern Kuril Islands to Japan and Japanese citizens to the islands began in April 1992, in accord with the agreement of October 14, 1991. The visits are made by tourists travelling in groups, and who do not need visas, but use special documents. The itineraries usually include cultural and sports events, excursions, and other activities. Since the program began, over fifteen thousand Japanese citizens and more than seven thousand residents of the southern Kuril Islands have taken part.