Japan PM won’t attend Russian WW2 ceremony: Govt spokesman

TOKYO - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will not attend an official ceremony in Moscow on May 9 to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War Two because of a schedule conflict, the nation's top government spokesman said on Tuesday.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference Japan's ambassador to Russia will attend the ceremony instead.

Japan has invited Russian President Vladimir Putin for visit but it was put off last year because of the Ukraine crisis.

Suga also said the rescheduling of Putin's visit has not been decided.

Abe, eyeing Russia's energy resources, had made improving ties a priority, but they have been strained by sanctions imposed by Tokyo on Moscow over the Ukraine crisis, as Tokyo seeks to stay in step with its close ally the United States.

A feud over Russian-controlled islands off northern Japan seized by the former Soviet Union at the end of the war remains unresolved, precluding a formal peace treaty.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has already declined an invitation to the ceremony due to tensions over the Ukraine crisis, although she will lay a wreath at the Monument of the Unknown Soldier in the Russian capital one day later.

The European Union and the United States accuse Russia of arming the separatists in east Ukraine and reinforcing their ranks with troops. Moscow has repeatedly denied involvement and blames the United States for pushing the pro-Western government in Kiev to war.