Russia hits back at Japan over Pacific islands row

30th September 2010, Comments 0 comments

Russia Thursday slammed as unacceptable Japan's condemnation of a plan for President Dmitry Medvedev to visit the Kuril Islands, in a new diplomatic row over the long-running territorial dispute.

Medvedev had the day earlier announced on a trip to Russia's Far East that he intended to visit the Kuril Islands in the near future and had only been prevented from doing so this time by bad weather.

Japan's Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara promptly warned that a presidential visit to the islands would "severely hurt ties".

"The president of Russia himself determines the itinerary of trips inside his own country," retorted Russian foreign ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko.

"Any kind of advice from outside in this respect is inappropriate and unacceptable," he told reporters.

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 at the end of World War II but Tokyo still claims the southernmost four islands as Japanese territory.

"We believe that in the interests of Russian-Japanese bilateral relations it is right to eschew contra-productive recycling of positions which lead to nothing," Nesterenko added.

Russian and Japanese officials have repeatedly expressed frustration that the dispute has prevented relations from reaching their potential and the row has also kept Russia and Japan from signing a treaty to end World War II.

Medvedev indicated that Russia had no intention of compromising over the issue, saying that the Kurils were a "very important region of our country."

The archipelago of some 56 islands cascades down from the tip of the Kamchatka peninsula towards Hokkaido island from which the southernmost 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.

Russia has in the last years placed heavy emphasis on the importance of remembering the victory of Soviet troops over the Axis powers of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan in World War II.

Medvedev has repeatedly slammed what Moscow sees as attempts in some countries to falsify history and revise the outcome of the war.

His latest comments on the Kurils were made on the Kamchatka peninsula, just north of the northernmost Kuril islands, and came just after he had made a major visit to China which also fought Japan in World War II.

Japan has also been sparring with China for the past three weeks in another territorial row, centred on islands located between Japan's Okinawa island and Taiwan which are called Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China.

© 2010 AFP

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