Putin eyes economic ties, nuclear deal with Japan

TOKYO (Reuters) - Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin wants to focus on economic ties during a visit to Japan this week but a breakthrough is unlikely on a decades-old dispute over a group of islands, Japanese media reported on Sunday.

Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin enters the hall for his first annual address to the parliament in Russia's State Duma in Moscow April 6, 2009. REUTERS/Denis Sinyakov

A number of agreements to be signed include a deal on commercial nuclear power. The Nikkei business daily quoted Putin as saying Russia would increase its share of meeting Japan’s nuclear power needs to 25 percent from 15 percent under the deal.

Russia is also seeking Japanese investment in a list of about 200 other projects, including automobile, energy, space, communications and steel manufacturing projects, Nikkei reported after an interview with Putin in Moscow on Thursday.

“We will present a list of economic cooperation projects to the Japanese side,” Nikkei quoted Putin as saying about his three-day visit from Monday.

“We also expect several inter-governmental agreements to be signed,” he said.

Economic and business ties between Russia and Japan are growing as Japan eyes Russia’s burgeoning consumer market and its booming oil and gas industries, and also as Russia seeks Japanese investment to develop its Far Eastern regions.

Two-way trade has grown more than five-fold since 2002. Major investors include carmaker Toyota Motor Corp 7203.T, which opened its first plant in Russia in 2007.

The disputed islands -- known in Russia as the Southern Kuriles and in Japan as the Northern Territories -- lie amid rich fishing grounds near Russian oil and gas production regions.

There seemed little chance of a breakthrough on the dispute, which has prevented the two sides from signing a peace treaty ending World War Two.

“In order to resolve such high-level and difficult problems, it is necessary to show patience, attention to each other’s interests,” Kyodo News Agency quoted Putin as saying.

The two sides need “not to put the situation into a deadlock by permanent pretensions and confrontation”, he said.

Neither Japan nor Russia accepts the other’s claim of sovereignty over the sparsely populated islands, the closest of which is just 15 km (10 miles) from Japan’s northernmost island of Hokkaido.

In February, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso agreed at a summit to seek an “out-of-the-box approach” to the islands row.

Putin will meet Aso as well as Russian and Japanese business leaders.

Reporting by Yoko Kubota; Editing by Paul Tait