TOKYO (AFP) - Japan will lodge a "strong protest" with Russia over military exercises reportedly being held on the disputed Kuril islands, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Wednesday.
"I can't accept this at all," he told reporters in response to questions about the drills.
"We will lodge a strong protest against Russia through the foreign ministry," Abe added, according to Jiji Press news agency.
But the foreign ministry could not immediately confirm if Russia was carrying out drills on the long-contested islands, which are located off Russia's far eastern coast and just north of Japan.
Abe's comments came after Russia scrapped a meeting with a Japanese minister in response to a new round of sanctions by Tokyo against senior figures involved in the annexation of Ukraine's Crimean peninsula.
The meeting, originally scheduled for late August, was expected to focus on the simmering territorial dispute that has hampered trade and kept Moscow and Tokyo from signing a treaty formally ending World War II hostilities.
Both the Kremlin and Abe had hoped to start mending relations in order to revive trade, with Japan seeking broader access to Russia's plentiful oil and natural gas supplies.
Russian President Vladimir Putin hosted Abe in April 2013 for the two sides' first formal summit in Moscow in a decade.
The leaders agreed to set in motion a series of high-level talks about Tokyo's claim to the four southernmost islands in the Kuril chain that it still refers to as the Northern Territories.