President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry are "not worried" about the prospect of Russia strengthening its relationship with Japan, a key U.S. ally in eastern Asia.
"Certainly, the United States — we're not concerned or worried about bilateral relations between Russia and Japan and we leave it to them to define what that relationship is going to be," State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters Tuesday.
That comment came in response to Russian President Vladimir Putin's announcement that he'll travel to Japan in December, following Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe trip to Russia in May. It's the latest example of Russia cultivating a friendship with a U.S. ally in a key region in recent weeks, the other being Turkey, and it takes place against the backdrop of Obama's attempt to ostracize Russia from polite international company for annexing Crimea and fomenting revolts in eastern Ukraine.
"Nothing has changed about our view that it's still not time for 'business-of-usual' with Russia across a wide variety of sectors given the concerns that we still have about their actions in Ukraine, the occupation of Crimea and the tensions that still exist," Kirby added.
Russia sees its budding friendship with Japan as evidence that it won't pay a price for the Ukrainian invasion, however. "This is yet another indication that Obama's policy of isolation has failed," Alexei Pushkov, a member of the Russian parliament, said in response to Abe's decision to visit Sochi in May. "It's an important visit that shows that Japan has decided not to put all its eggs in one basket."
Putin is also cultivating a relationship with a NATO member on the other side of Asia, rehabilitating ties with Turkey just months after a Turkish F-16 shot down a Russian jet on the border of Turkey and Syria. His efforts in that area benefited from a failed coup attempt against the Turkish regime, which Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has blamed on the United States. Erdogan wants the United States to extradite a Muslim cleric who lives in Pennsylvania, a request that is still pending.
In the meantime, the U.S. government is taking a conciliatory tone with Erdogan, sending Vice President Joe Biden and other senior officials to have high-level meetings with the Turkish regime, and declining to condemn the mass arrests of 150 journalists in Turkey.
"You're asking me whether I'm going to condemn the jailing of journalists," Kirby said Tuesday. "They are conducting an investigation. I can't begin to speculate, here, who was or who wasn't involved in this and it wouldn't be appropriate for us to do that . . . we simply have urged them, in terms of process, how to go about doing that in a way that is through and complete but also transparent and fair."