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Analysts believe a likely scenario might be that Russia will return two of the four islands to Japan as a compromise. The recent disclosure of a Soviet-era study by a renowned Russian historian confirmed that Japan might, in fact, be on firm legal grounds in seeking the return of at least two of the islands.

A related issue to the islands dispute is the signing of a peace treaty between Russia and Japan. Because of the islands row, Moscow and Tokyo never signed a formal peace treaty after World War II.

Mr. Abe and Mr. Putin made historic progress during their long talks. On Monday, Mr. Putin made an important announcement that Russia and Japan are committed to reaching a peace treaty for the first time since the end of the war 68 years ago.

Mr. Putting and Mr. Abe have ordered their foreign ministers to “intensify contacts for devising a mutually acceptable way of settling the problem” of the peace treaty.

Suddenly, to China’s chagrin, a renewed thaw of Moscow-Tokyo ties may fundamentally change the strategic ethos of Northeast Asia, and it is not necessarily to China’s liking.

Miles Yu’s column appears Fridays. He can be reached at and @yu_miles.