MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin tried a bit of dog diplomacy ahead of his trip to Japan, and then gave a glimmer of hope that a 70-year territorial dispute with Tokyo could be resolved.
Japanese journalists met with Putin at the Kremlin, days before Putin heads to Tokyo. The interview began with the Russian leader showing off the Akita given to him by Japan in 2012.
Putin fed the massive dog, called Yume, which was just a puppy when she came to Russia. Now, the canine is almost as big as Putin when she stands up on her hind legs to receive a treat from her master. The journalists appeared intimidated by the beast and told Putin afterward that they had been "scared."
Putin then said that there was a "chance" to settle a dispute over the Kuril islands, a chain of volcanic islands that run between Russia's Kamchatka peninsula and Japan's northern island of Hokkaido. Moscow and Tokyo have never formally signed a treaty ending World War II because of a dispute over their ownership.
Putin told the Japanese journalists that it's difficult for him to say how big the chance is "because it depends on factors including the flexibility of our partners," according to an interview transcript published by the Kremlin on Tuesday.
There had been some expectation of a breakthrough on the issue during talks between Putin and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Japan on Thursday and Friday, but officials on both sides appear to be urging caution.
Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters in Moscow that a resolution to the issue would involve several rounds of "painstaking" negotiations.
Putin said Moscow could live with the status quo.
"We think that we have no territorial problems. It's Japan that thinks that it has a territorial problem with Russia," he said.
As for Yume the dog, it looks like she may have to wait a bit longer for male companionship. A Japanese official said last week that his Russian counterparts had rejected the idea of presenting Putin with another dog during Putin's forthcoming visit.