TOKYO: Japan “strongly protested” yesterday against Russian military exercises on Pacific islands that it also claims and which have been at the root of strained relations between the two countries since the end of World War Two.
The exercises on the disputed islands are a blow to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s efforts to court resource-rich Russia and keep the door open to dialogue, despite the Ukraine crisis.
Russia seized the islands from Japan in the waning days of World War Two and the dispute over them has prevented the neighbours from signing a formal peace treaty.
The islands are known as the Southern Kuriles in Russia and the Northern Territories in Japan.
“Carrying out this sort of exercises in the Northern Territories is totally unacceptable,” Abe said.
Japan lodged a “strong protest” at the Russian Embassy in Tokyo, the Japanese Foreign Ministry said in a statement, calling the exercises “extremely regrettable.”
Japan had already protested at the beginning of the military exercises but reiterated its objections yesterday.
Colonel Alexander Gordeyev, a spokesman for Russia’s Eastern Military District, told the Russian news agency Interfax on Tuesday that the exercises had begun, involving military units in the region deployed to the islands.
Gordeyev said more than 1,000 troops, five Mi-8AMTSh attack helicopters and 100 other pieces of military hardware would be involved in the manoeuvres.
The exercises included Etorofu and Kunashiri islands, which Japan claims.