Japan has objected to a visit by Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin to the Kuril Islands amid a territorial dispute between the two countries over the archipelago, government spokesperson Katsunobu Kato said on Monday.
Japan claims the islands, located between the northern main island of Hokkaido and the Russian Kamchatka peninsula, as part of its territory.
Moscow rejected the protest and emphasized that the Kuril Islands were Russian national territory. “As for the trip of the chair of the government of the Russian Federation to Iturup, he naturally visits those Russian regions that he considers necessary,” said Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov.
Japan and Russia have been locked in a decades-long territorial spat over the Kuril Islands, which the Soviet Union seized in the closing days of World War II. The dispute has kept the two countries from concluding a post-war peace treaty.
On Monday, the Japanese Foreign Ministry summoned the Russian ambassador to Tokyo over the issue, while the Russian Foreign Ministry, in turn, lodged a complaint with the Japanese ambassador.
During a meeting with the diplomat, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov criticized the “unfriendly steps in the context of Japan’s territorial claims” to what was Russian territory.
Russian President Vladimir Putin had recently spoken out in favour of economic cooperation on the islands.
Prime Minister Mishustin, who visited a hospital and a fishery business, among other things, on Iturup in the southern section of the island group, said he was planning to discuss concrete initiatives with Putin upon his return to Moscow, including the founding of a duty-free zone.