Vladimir Putin says Russia is willing to compromise on a territorial dispute that has bedevilled relations with Japan for eight decades, but said this would not include the trade or sale of the islands held by Moscow and claimed by Tokyo.
"We're not talking about some exchange or some sale," the Russian president told Bloomberg News in an interview conducted on Thursday and posted on the news agency's website.
"We are talking about finding a solution where neither of the parties would feel defeated or a loser."
Putin is to meet Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Friday on the sidelines of a business conference in Vladivostok to discuss, among other things, closer economic cooperation in such areas as energy and technology.
Mr Abe hopes the lure of deeper economic ties with Russia will strengthen strategic relations in the face of a rising China, but sceptics question whether the approach will generate a breakthrough on the dispute over the small islands.
The row over Moscow's seizure of the territory off Hokkaido - called the Northern Territories by Japan and Southern Kuriles by Russia - in the final days of World War II has prevented the two countries from ever signing a treaty formalising the end of the war.
"We don't trade in territories, although the problem of a peace treaty with Japan is a key one," Mr Putin said through an interpreter.
"And we would very much like to find a solution to this problem with our Japanese friends."