- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 21, 2000

TOKYO The intrigue has been as thick as homemade borscht in Tokyo's diplomatic quarter since police caught a Japanese navy officer in a posh restaurant purportedly passing confidential documents to the Russian Embassy's naval attache.

Ramifications from the recent incident have already dimmed the luster of Russian President Vladimir Putin's visit here earlier this month.

Both nations, which have yet to sign a peace treaty formally ending World War II, used Mr. Putin's Sept. 3-5 visit to Tokyo to put on a high-profile display of fence mending.

The visit dominated front-page newspaper headlines and evening newscasts.

Then, on Sept. 7, two days after Mr. Putin jetted off to the U.N. Millennium Summit in New York, police arrested Russian naval attache Victor Bogatenkov, 44, and Japanese Lt. Cmdr. Shigehiro Hagisaki, 38, as they dined.

Cmdr. Hagisaki reportedly burst into tears while being led out of the restaurant and later told police he had betrayed his country, according to the Mainichi Daily News.

As for the Russian a dead ringer for the Peter Sellers' character, Inspector Clouseau of "Pink Panther" fame he invoked diplomatic immunity and flew home to Moscow the next day.

Moscow dismissed the scandal as a setup by parties aiming to slow progress toward Russo-Japanese ties.

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov urged Japan to tone down public criticism of the case, saying the two countries should resolve the issue behind closed doors before moving on with attempts to improve relations.

Japanese authorities said the pair had met at least 10 times and were seen exchanging envelopes.

Before the scandal, Mr. Putin had charmed Japan with his showmanship, including a demonstration of his judo skills.

Yet the two nations have made little progress on a nagging territorial dispute over four islands seized by the Soviet Union from Japan at the end of World War II.

Russia controls the four Kuril Islands in rich fishing grounds off Japan's northern coast and occasionally opens fire on poaching Japanese fishing boats that venture too close.

Apart from the island dispute, many in Japan eye Russia's diplomacy in the neighborhood with suspicion.

Mr. Putin visited Beijing and the North Korean capital of Pyongyang en route to the Group of Eight economic summit in Okinawa, Japan, earlier in the summer.

He then met South Korean President Kim Dae-jung in New York Sept. 9 and discussed plans for a rail network from the Koreas through Russia to Europe, further suggesting that Russia wants to get back in the Far Eastern ballgame.

There has been speculation that some Japanese and Russian factions were not pleased with the positive overtures by Mr. Putin in East Asia.

And this in turn made speculation about a setup spy scandal all the more dicey, even though it never went beyond the rumor stage.

Japan's defense agency has decided to indefinitely postpone two planned Russo-Japanese defense cooperation events as a result of the scandal.

The agency has informed the Russian Embassy in Tokyo that it would not be able to host Col. Gen. Yuri Bukreyev, the supreme commander of the Russian Army, who was scheduled to visit Japan later this month.

The agency also put off an upcoming visit by 30 middle-ranking officers and bureaucrats to Russia.

However, a high-ranking official said the agency is not considering putting off a visit to Japan by Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev scheduled for November.

In a bizarre twist, Mr. Bogatenkov's son will shortly begin working at the Russian Embassy in Tokyo, gaining the same diplomatic immunity that allowed his father to scamper back to Moscow and avoid prosecution, officials said.

Sergei Bogatenkov, a Japanese-language specialist who has studied at the International Christian University in Tokyo, applied for a diplomatic visa in Moscow Aug. 29, and received it just hours before his father was arrested.

Government officials told the Mainichi newspaper that there is nothing wrong with the younger Mr. Bogatenkov coming here.

"Just because the father's a spy doesn't mean we should stop the son from coming to the country," the paper quoted a government spokesman as saying.

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