Russia, Japan agree to improve ties

Moscow: Russian President Vladimir Putin and visiting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Friday vowed to shore up bilateral ties in all directions after their relations have been at a low point since the Ukraine crisis. The two sides agreed to maintain close high-level contact this year on such occasions as the Group of 20 summit and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, and to build up bilateral dialogue in all directions -- economy, trade, investment and the humanitarian sphere, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was quoted as saying by the TASS news agency after the two leaders met in the Black Sea resort of Sochi. Lavrov said the issue of lifting Tokyo's sanctions against Moscow was not discussed during the meeting, but he added the two sides are expected to hold consultations over a peace treaty at the level of deputy foreign ministers in June. Russia and Japan have not signed any peace treaty mainly due to their long-held disputes over four Pacific islands. Meanwhile, Lavrov said Putin and Abe discussed the details of the former's visit to Japan. "Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe confirmed his invitation to President Vladimir Putin (to visit Japan). They discussed the details of this invitation, including concrete dates." The two leaders also shared views on removing nuclear weapons from the Korean Peninsula, while the Russian side noted that Pyongyang's nuclear actions should not be used as a pretext for the United States to bolstering military presence in the Asia Pacific region, Lavrov said. The relationship between Tokyo and Moscow became increasingly strained after Japan slapped new sanctions against Russia in response to its annexation of Crimea and the crisis in eastern Ukraine, alongside steps taken by the U.S. and the European Union. Abe's visit has been widely seen as an effort to mend frayed ties and seek rapprochement with Moscow.