Criticism of Putin over Ukraine regrettable: Japan ex-PM

10th September 2014, Comments 0 comments

A gaffe-prone former Japanese premier carrying a letter for Vladimir Putin from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said global criticism of the Russian strongman over Ukraine is "regrettable".

The latest episode of foot-in-mouth to afflict Yoshiro Mori threatened to overshadow the contact, the first by a senior Japanese politician with the Russian president since Moscow annexed Crimea earlier this year.

"As a friend I regret very much that President Putin, whom I respect, is facing global criticism over the Ukraine situation," Mori said in a speech in Moscow, footage of which was broadcast on Japanese TV.

Mori, who was Japanese prime minister for about a year from April 2000, is there to attend a private-sector forum on exchanges between Japan and Russia, and was expected to meet Putin later Wednesday.

"The Japanese government has no direct involvement" in his visit, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a regular press briefing.

But he added: "As he is a close friend of President Putin, I have received a report that former prime minister Mori is arranging a meeting."

Mori is carrying a letter from Abe, Suga said, but declined to disclose the contents.

If the meeting is realised, he would be the first senior Japanese politician to meet Putin since Russian troops took control of the southern Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea in March.

Before the crisis erupted, Abe had actively sought to forge closer diplomatic and economic ties with Russia.

He would dearly love to solve a long-standing dispute over a group of islands seized by Soviet troops in the closing days of World War II, and still claimed by Japan.

The dispute has prevented Tokyo and Moscow signing a formal peace treaty.

In line with its western allies, Japan has announced sanctions on Russia over the Crimea annexation and over suspicions that Moscow is behind the instability in the east of Ukraine.

Mori is among a fairly large cadre of senior Japanese politicians who regularly say inappropriate things.

In 2000 Mori spilled details of a secret deal in which he had bizarrely suggested to Pyongyang in 1997 that North Korea could avoid having to admit to allegedly kidnapping several Japanese nationals by pretending they had been "found" in a third country.

In February this year he sparked a public backlash after suggesting that Japan's figure skate darling Mao Asada had a tendency to bottle it when it came to the crunch.

And shortly after being appointed to head of the Tokyo 2020 organising committee in January, he suggested he might not be alive to see the Games he was in charge of.

"I am going on 77 this year," he told a seminar. "I am destined to live five or six more years if I am lucky."

© 2014 AFP

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