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Russia denies blocking Hokkaido mayor’s entry to disputed isles

MOSCOW — The Russian Foreign Ministry on Thursday rejected claims that it denied entry to a mayor from Hokkaido during a recent study tour on disputed islands conducted by Moscow and Tokyo.


The ministry issued the response to Kyodo News after diplomatic sources said earlier that Russia had prevented Nemuro Mayor Shunsuke Hasegawa from entering the disputed islands off Hokkaido in retaliation for sanctions imposed by Japan over the crisis in Ukraine.


The five-day study tour through July 1 was aimed at assessing the potential for joint economic activities on the islands, which Japan hopes will pave the way from addressing the decades-long territorial dispute.


The Russian Foreign Ministry’s Information and Press Department denied involvement in the exclusion of the mayor from the tour, saying in the written response that Hasegawa’s name was not included on the final list of participants prepared by the Japanese side.


Although the Japanese government did not disclose why Hasegawa was not on the list of participants, it is likely his name was not included as Russia was certain to deny him entry.


Hasegawa has expressed disappointment over the matter. The local assembly in Nemuro, located on the coast of eastern Hokkaido near the disputed islands, also lodged a protest with the Japanese government for the lack of explanation about why the mayor could not join the tour.


The Russian ministry did not confirm whether Hasegawa is subject to retaliatory measures that Russia introduced in August 2014, saying the two governments have agreed not to disclose the names of the individuals affected.


Hasegawa is believed to have been included on the blacklist as he plays a key role in the campaign for the return of the islands, called the Southern Kurils in Russia and the Northern Territories in Japan.


The ministry also said that Russia will lift the retaliatory measures once Japan ends its sanctions on Moscow.


Under Japan’s sanctions, announced in April 2014, visas are denied to 23 Russian nationals.


The islands of Etorofu, Kunashiri, Shikotan and the Habomai islet group were seized by the Soviet Union after Japan surrendered in World War II in August 1945. The territorial dispute has prevented the two countries from concluding a postwar peace treaty.

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