Kuril Islands 'very important' part of Russia: Medvedev
The Pacific Kuril Islands chain at the centre of a territorial dispute with Japan is a "very important" part of Russia, President Dmitry Medvedev said on Wednesday.
"This is a very important region of our country," Medvedev told reporters in the main city of Russia's volcanic Kamchatka peninsula just north of the contested islands.
He said he had been hoping to visit on his current trip to the Far East region but the plan had been thwarted by bad weather.
"But we will do it, we will definitely go there in the nearest future," he said.
The Kuril Islands, which lie north of Japan's Hokkaido island, have been controlled by Moscow since they were seized by Soviet troops in 1945 but their status is a major problem in Moscow-Tokyo relations.
The archipelago of some 56 islands cascades down from the tip of the Kamchatka peninsula towards Hokkaido island from which the southern most island is only a few kilometres distant.
The dispute surrounds the southernmost four islands -- known in Russian as Iturup, Shikotan, Habomai and Kunashir and which are collectively known in Japan as the Northern Territories.
Japan does not contest Russia's sovereignty over the northernmost islands but has repeatedly demanded the return of the four southernmost islands.
Russian and Japanese officials have repeatedly expressed frustration that the dispute has prevented relations reaching their full potential but summit meetings over the last years have failed to make any progress in the dispute.
The row has also prevented Russia and Japan from signing a peace treaty to formally end World War II.
Medvedev's comments, his strongest on the dispute since coming to power on 2008, indicate that Russia is in no mood to give ground on the disputed territories.
According to the website or Russia's Far East Sakhalin region, the southernmost islands have a population of 10,000 people with fishing one of the main local industries.
© 2010 AFP