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Japan protests Russian military drills on disputed isles

Japan lodged a diplomatic protest with Russia over the latter’s military exercise that began Tuesday on islands off Hokkaido claimed by Tokyo, Foreign Minister Taro Kono said.


“This will lead to the increased armament of the four islands. It is incompatible with our country’s stance and is regrettable,” Kono said in a parliamentary committee on Wednesday.


Russia began the exercise the same day Japan and Russia discussed the islands issue during vice ministerial-level talks in Tokyo, specifically how to conduct joint economic activities that both countries have agreed to undertake on the islands without compromising either’s position on their sovereignty.


The Russian exercise did not come up as a topic in Tuesday’s dialogue, Kono said, as Japan was “able to confirm the fact of the military exercise only after the talks had finished.”


Asked about the exercise’s impact on Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s planned visit to Russia in May to make progress on the bilateral territorial row with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Kono indicated the travel plan is unlikely to change.


“We will persistently negotiate with Russia to solve these sorts of issues,” he said.


According to the Foreign Ministry, about 2,000 Russian troops are taking part in the exercise across the Kuril Islands expected to run through to this weekend. As part of this, a counterterrorism drill has been held on Kunashiri, one of the disputed islands.


Japan claims three islands and an islet group in the southern part of the island chain, calling them the Northern Territories.


The Soviet Union seized the islands at the end of World War II. The ongoing dispute over their sovereignty has kept Japan and Russia from signing a postwar peace treaty.


On Wednesday, designated by Japan as “Northern Territories Day” based on a treaty on commerce and navigation Tokyo concluded with Russia on Feb. 7, 1855, Abe reiterated his pledge to promote territorial talks and sign a peace treaty with Russia.


“It is abnormal that a bilateral peace treaty has not been signed 72 years after the war. We have to break the deadlock somehow,” the prime minister told a rally on the territorial issue.


Under the 1855 treaty, Russia accepted that the islands are part of Japan.

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