Japan stresses need to resolve territorial dispute with Russia ahead of forthcoming Putin visit

Russian President Vladimir Putin is scheduled to visit Japan next month.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is scheduled to visit Japan next month. PHOTO: EPA

TOKYO (BLOOMBERG, REUTERS) - Japan stressed the need to resolve a territorial dispute with Russia on Wednesday (Nov 23) amid media reports that the former Soviet nation had deployed anti-ship missile units in the Kuril Islands near Japan.

Foreign Affairs Minister Fumio Kishida said the government was aware of movements around Japan's Northern Territories, and would continue to monitor developments.

He said solving the territorial dispute was one of Japan's top priorities, and he hopes to make progress towards that when Russian President Vladimir Putin is scheduled to visit the country next month.

Mr Kishida was speaking at a press briefing in Miyagi Prefecture, northern Japan, in response to a reporter's question.

Russia deployed Bal and Bastion units on Kunashir Island and Iturup Island respectively, RIA Novosti said, citing Pacific Fleet newspaper Combat Watch.

The report said the units were preparing for exercises in the Japan Sea, without specifying when they were deployed.

The dispute over four islands known as the Northern Territories in Japan and South Kurils in Russia has prevented the countries from signing a peace treaty more than 70 years after the end of World War II. Soviet troops occupied the territory in the dying days of the war.

The Nikkei newspaper reported last month that Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will propose co-governing the disputed islands.

Mr Putin said on Sunday (Nov 20) that both sides "genuinely want to sign a peace treaty", but cautioned that they remain far apart on the issue of ownership.

The Kremlin said on Wednesday the deployment of the Russian missile defence systems on the islands should not influence efforts to achieve a peace deal over the territorial dispute.

"Without doubt, there are grounds for this (deploying the missiles), but at the same time from our point of view, it should not in any way influence the centripetal trend which exists in our bilateral relations with Tokyo," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on a conference call with reporters.

He said that trend applies "in terms of the careful preparations for the forthcoming visit of President Putin to Japan, and in terms of continuing contacts to develop our bilateral ties, especially in the economic sphere, and negotiations on the peace deal issue".