/

Putin expected to visit disputed Kunashiri next week

Kyodo

Russian President Vladimir Putin might visit one of the four Russian-held islands claimed by Japan next week, a person affiliated with a group of former residents who just returned from visiting the islands said Monday.

Toyama Prefectural Assemblyman Hisayoshi Ono, who headed the group, said he had heard from Lev Sedikh, chief of Anama village on Shikotan — one of the islands in question — that Putin could visit either Shikotan or Kunashiri next Monday. The other two disputed islands are Etorofu and the Habomai group of islets.

At a press conference in Nemuro, Hokkaido, Ono said he heard about the plan before leaving Shikotan on Sunday while he was wrapping up a visa-free exchange program for Russian residents and former islanders.

Hideki Uyama, director of the Foreign Ministry’s Russian Division, told reporters he heard about the rumor from Anama’s mayor but declined to say whether the ministry verified the information.

Japan and Russia are at odds over the sovereignty of Etorofu, Kunashiri, Shikotan and the Habomai islet group, which were seized by the Soviet Union shortly after Japan’s surrendered to the Allies in World War II on Aug. 15, 1945.

The row over the islands — called the Northern Territories by Japan and the Southern Kurils by Russia — has prevented the countries from concluding a peace treaty to formally end the war.

Ties between Tokyo and Moscow were strained when then-President Dmitry Medvedev visited Kunashiri in November 2010. Medvedev visited Kunashiri again last July as prime minister.