For decades, the dispute over ownership of four islands in the Kuril archipelago has prevented Russia and Japan from developing closer economic ties and ending tensions dating to World War Two.
Japan views the Russian occupation of the islands as illegitimate. Russia considers the matter settled because Japan launched and then lost a war of aggression, and therefore must accept the loss of territory as a just consequence.
Today, however, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe appear to be the unlikely partners in finally settling the matter. These two nationalist hawks may be in a position to cut a deal that more moderate predecessors never could.