Japan ‘unwavering’ in island row with Russia: FM

Japan’s foreign minister said Thursday that Tokyo’s claim over the disputed Kuril islands remains “absolutely unwavering” despite Russia’s decision to boost its military presence on the territory.

Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara, who is due to visit Moscow from Friday, said Russia’s occupation of the islands is illegal and shrugged off President Dmitry Medvedev’s order the previous day to deploy extra weaponry there.

The Kurils, called the Northern Territories by Japan, have been controlled by Moscow since they were seized by Soviet troops in 1945 but their status remains a major stumbling block in Moscow-Tokyo relations.

The dispute — which has prevented Russia and Japan from signing a peace treaty to formally end World War II — flared up after Medvedev visited the islands three months ago and then reignited a war of words in recent days.

Maehara, hours before he was due to leave for Moscow, told reporters that “under international law, the Northern Territories are the inherent territories of Japan, and Russia’s occupation has no legal basis under international law”.

“Regardless of how many (Russian) senior officials go there and who goes there, and whether it increases or decreases its military presence, the legal value (of Russia’s claim) does not change,” he said.

“Our resolve remains absolutely unwavering.”

Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan earlier this week characterised Medvedev’s November tour to the islands as an “unforgivable outrage”, speaking on a day when Japanese nationalists rallied for the return of the islands.

Medvedev on Wednesday again described the islands as an “inseparable” part of Russia’s territory and a strategic Russian region, and ordered an expansion of its military presence on the remote archipelago.

Kan’s top spokesman and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano tried to tone down the rhetoric on Thursday, saying only that Japan was “carefully monitoring” Russia’s increased military activities in the region.

He said Japan is aiming to conclude a peace treaty with Russia, based on various existing agreements, while maintaining its claims over the islands, located between Japan’s Hokkaido island and Russia’s Kamchatka peninsula.