Russia has threatened to forbid visa-free travel for Japanese officials to the disputed Kurile Islands if Tokyo goes on making statements assuming ownership of the islands.
“If for some reason Japanese politicians cannot refrain from making public statements on the subject of the islands after a visit to Russian territory, we reserve the right to limit their participation in such trips,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement released on Thursday.
Moscow and Tokyo have long been involved in a dispute over islands north of Hokkaido, which are called the Southern Kuriles in Russia and referred to as the Northern Territories in Japan.
The statement added that that the current visa-free regime for Japanese officials is a “humanitarian act” that permits them to visit the graves of their ancestors.
The Russian Foreign Ministry pointed to a statement made by Japanese minister of state for Okinawa and Northern Territories Affairs during a visit to the islands.
Ichita Yamamoto has said that the trip reinforced his view of “the need to return (northern Japanese) territories.”
In 2010, Russia’s then President Dmitry Medvedev made the first visit by a Russian leader to the disputed islands. He also vowed to boost investment in the region. The move intensified the dispute.
Japan’s Kyodo News Agency reported on July 28 that Tokyo was reluctant to accept a Russian offer to participate in joint projects on the disputed islands since it would indicate Japanese recognition of Russian sovereignty over the archipelago and undermine Japan’s claim to the territory.
“Participation of Japanese companies in joint development projects under Russian law would amount to recognition of Russian sovereignty [over the islands],” the report quoted an unnamed Japanese diplomat as saying.
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