iN62tIH9KrRoJapan will today begin exercises with the U.S. Army on its northernmost island of Hokkaido, a day after it started naval maneuvers with Russia 500 miles (800 kilometers) away off the coast of Vladivostok. The drills illustrate the balance Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe must strike between his attempts to mend relations with Russia and the need to bolster his country’s alliance with the U.S. as a backstop to a more assertive China in the region. ¬†While Russia supplies about 10 percent of Japan’s natural gas needs, and potentially more, Japan backed Group of Seven sanctions over Russia’s infiltration of Ukraine. That sparked recriminations from Russia and raised military tensions, with Japanese jets dispatched hundreds of times to head off approaches by Russian aircraft in the three months through June. “What’s difficult for Japan is that the alliance with the U.S. is the centerpiece of its security policy,” said Taisuke Abiru, a research fellow specializing in Russia at research group The Tokyo Foundation. “How can they maintain this alongside relations with Russia? This is an extremely important problem for Prime Minister Abe now.” More