VLADIVOSTOK, Russia — Russia’s environment minister Sergei Donskoi last week visited one of four Russian-held islands off Hokkaido claimed by Japan to prepare for envisioned joint economic activities on the disputed islands, Russian officials said Monday.Donskoi, minister of natural resources and environment, traveled to the island of Etorofu on Friday, a day after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed to conduct the joint activities in five areas including wind power generation and waste reduction at their summit in Vladivostok.
Japan believes the joint activities would pave the way for resolving the longstanding territorial dispute over the islands and signing a post-World War II peace treaty, while Russia hopes to attract Japanese investments in the underdeveloped territories.
It is the first time since 2015 that a Russian minister is known to have visited the disputed islands, according to a Japanese government source.
The Japanese government previously lodged protests every time a Russian minister visited the islands, which also include Kunashiri, Shikotan and the Habomai islet group.
This time the source said that if the latest visit is “aimed at laying the groundwork for the joint economic activities, it is different in character from previous cases.”
Donskoi, who took part in an economic forum held Wednesday and Thursday in the Russian Far East city of Vladivostok, arrived on Etorofu on Friday and inspected a possible site for joint economic activities on Saturday. He was also scheduled to visit Kunashiri but changed the plan due to bad weather, the Russian officials said.
The disputed islands off Japan’s northernmost main island were seized by the Soviet Union after Japan’s surrender in August 1945 ended World War II. They are called the Northern Territories in Japan and the Southern Kurils in Russia.