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Russia rebuffs Japanese protest over prime minister's visit to Kuril Islands

By The Siberian Times reporter
24 August 2015

Dmitry Medvedev promises economic and military development of territory disputed since the end of World War Two.

A decree is signed that establishes the Russian border on the continental shelf off the Sea of Okhotsk. Picture: Dmitry Medvedev

As a row raged with Japan, the Russian prime minister promised to consider giving free port status to Korsakov, Kholmsk and Nevelsk in the Kuril Islands. 

The move to boost the economy was proposed by the Head of Sakhalin region, Oleg Kozhemyako, as a means of boosting the economy of the area and giving impetus to the creation of new industries.

Dmitry Medvedev 'reacted with interest to the proposal and requested the relevant federal officials to develop it', said regional sources.

Moscow hit back at Tokyo's protests over his visit by arguing the Russian government will not change the travel plans of officials based on the views of a foreign country. Tokyo said the visit to Iturup Island, known as Etorofu in Japan, 'was extremely regrettable and hurt Japanese people's feelings'.

Russia rebuffs Japanese protest over prime minister's visit to Kuril Islands
Dmitry Medvedev vowed to improve the living conditions on the islands. Picture: Dmitry Medvedev


Japan indicated that its Foreign Minister would not now travel to Russia as planned in September, and hinted that a possible trip to Tokyo by President Vladimir Putin might not now go ahead. 

Medvedev told the Russian media: 'We are well disposed towards Japan, but this is in no way related to the Kuril Islands, which are part of the Russian Federation and constituent territory of Russia's Sakhalin region.'

In a bluntly worded statement, the Russian Foreign Ministry declared: 'Japan's reaction to Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev's visit to the Iturup Island once again indicates that Tokyo continues challenging the generally recognised outcomes of World War Two on the eve of the 70th anniversary of its end.'

The rhetoric from Tokyo 'casts doubt on the Japanese government's assurances of respect for the historical truth and memory of the war that has brought death and suffering to tens of millions of citizens in East Asia'.

The Foreign Ministry added: 'We would like to reiterate that we have no intention to take into account Japan's position while drafting the working schedule for the leadership and the members of the government.'

Russia rebuffs Japanese protest over prime minister's visit to Kuril Islands


Russia rebuffs Japanese protest over prime minister's visit to Kuril Islands


Russia rebuffs Japanese protest over prime minister's visit to Kuril Islands


Russia rebuffs Japanese protest over prime minister's visit to Kuril Islands


Russia rebuffs Japanese protest over prime minister's visit to Kuril Islands
Dmitry Medvedev promised economic and military development in the Kurils. Pictures: Dmitry Medvedev


Iturup and other islands in the Kurils - Kunashir, Shikotan and Habomai - are known as the Northern Territories in Japan, and were taken over by the USSR at the end of the Second World War. The dispute prevented Tokyo and Moscow signing an official peace treaty after the war.

Medvedev announced that he had 'signed a decree that establishes the Russian border on the continental shelf off the Sea of Okhotsk. What does it mean? It means that we can deal with our shelf and, by the way, huge sources of raw materials, huge sources of energy'.

He said discussions were underway over advanced development territories in the Kuril Islands of Iturup and Kunashir, where there are hopes of exploiting untapped tourist potential.

'The Kurils have all resources for development of industry, fishing and tourism. These are in fact our gates to one of the most intensively developing part of the world - the Asia-Pacific region,' he said on Facebook. 

Russia rebuffs Japanese protest over prime minister's visit to Kuril Islands
The Kurils have all resources for development of industry, fishing and tourism. Picture: Dmitry Medvedev


Dmitry Medvedev vowed to improve the living conditions on the islands. He visited several construction sites that are part of Russia's Kuril development programme culminating in 2025. He stressed during his visit that an advanced combat-ready military group should be deployed on the Kuril Islands.

'We need an advanced combat-ready military group stationed on the Kuril Islands. All the necessary conditions for it have been met in accordance with the decisions made by the Commander-in-chief,' said Medvedev. 

In June, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu ordered to double construction rates at military facilities on the islands. 

Medvedev first visited the Kuril Islands in 2010 when held the post of the Russian president.

Tokyo was reported to have lodged a formal protest over Medvedev's visit to the island.

Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida is not now expected to travel to Moscow in the coming weeks, a trip that had in any case not been officially announced. 

But as one source said: 'The sides have not announced their talks in Moscow. It is impossible to postpone something if it has not yet been agreed.'

Kishida told the Russian Ambassador to Japan Evgeny Afanasiev: that Medvedev's visit 'hurt the feelings of the Japanese people and was extremely regrettable'.

And editorial The Yomiuri Shimbun and carried by The Japan News alleged 'by ignoring Japan's request to cancel the visit, Medvedev's arrival on the island constitutes a serious infringement of sovereignty'. 

Russia rebuffs Japanese protest over prime minister's visit to Kuril Islands
'We are well disposed towards Japan, but this is in no way related to the Kuril Islands, which are part of the Russian Federation'. Picture: Dmitry Medvedev


In a passage which shows the divide between the two sides over the islands, it went on: 'Lately, Russia's hard-line stance on Japan has been intolerable. At the end of June, Russia decided to impose a ban, starting next year, on drift-net fishing for salmon and trout within Russia's exclusive economic zone, where Japanese fishing vessels also operate. There are fears the Japanese fishing industry will be affected.

'Since July, the Russian health minister and the deputy prime minister have successively visited the northern territories. Russia has also announced a "development program," injecting about 120 billion yen over 10 years for the development of social infrastructure for the whole of the Kuril Islands.

'We can discern Russia's intention of shaking the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and causing disarray in Japan's cooperation with the United States and European countries, which are imposing sanctions on Russia over the Ukrainian crisis.

'Japan has attached importance to dialogue with Russia to hold in check China's military rise and to prevent China from forming a united front with Russia against Japan. By using the personal relationship between Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin, Japan is seeking a possible visit to Japan by Putin sometime this year to advance bilateral negotiations over territorial issues. We can understand Abe's strategic course of action.

'But Russia's recent moves vividly demonstrate that the Putin administration has no intention of earnestly dealing with the territorial issues with Japan.

'Even if Putin's visit to Japan is realized, it is hard to expect any substantial dialogue between Abe and Putin, nor any tangible results'. 

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