DIPLOMATIC ROW: Japan Protests Russian Exercises on the Kuril islands

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TOKYO – The government of Japan has informed Russia that it opposes military exercises in the region of the Kuril Islands, Kyodo news agency reported, citing representatives of the Japanese Foreign Ministry.

“It is incompatible with our position in the northern territories,” diplomats said.

The protest note was sent through diplomatic channels after Russia notified Japan on April 2 of plans to carry out the exercises between April 4 and 12.

In March, Russia has already held the exercises in the region with the participation of about 500 people.

For decades, Tokyo has conditioned the signing of the peace treaty with Russia, an issue pending since 1945, to the return of the Iturup, Kunashir, Shikotan and Habomai islands, the so-called “northern territories.”

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Moscow, in turn, emphasizes that these territories were transferred to the Soviet Union by international agreements at the end of World War II and that Russia assumed the sovereignty of these territories as legal successor of the USSR.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said last November after meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that Tokyo would be willing to resume negotiations on the territorial dispute with Moscow and that it admits the possible transfer of two of the islands Kurilas of the South to Japan after the signing of a treaty of peace between the parts.

Signing a peace treaty, not “giving or receiving anything,” is the reason Russia continues its dialogue with Japan, the Kremlin said amid tough talks over the four Kuril Islands in January.

“Our main goal is not to give or receive anything, but to sign a peace treaty [with Japan],” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Sunday. Today, Moscow and Tokyo are locked in uncomfortable conversations about the latent territorial dispute.

Japan, a close ally of the US, is sticking to sanctions imposed by Washington, which makes the dialogue even more challenging, Peskov said. “They support the sanctions regime and this is one of the problems and situations that prevent the signing of the peace treaty.”

Other obstacles include Japan’s attempts to involve its allies, the US, in the negotiations. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov recently called the idea “outrageous,” raising the issue with his Japanese counterpart, Taro Kono.

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