MOSCOW (Kyodo) Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Wednesday that he will soon visit Russian-held islands claimed by Japan, the RIA Novosti news agency and other Russian reports said, a move that would make him the first Russian leader to visit the disputed territories.

But Medvedev stopped short of saying that he will visit the islands off Hokkaido, called the Southern Kurils in Russia and the Northern Territories in Japan, during his ongoing visit to the Russian Far East.

Speaking in an interview in Tokyo, Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara said he has warned the Russian ambassador there that Medvedev’s visit to the islands would seriously hurt bilateral ties.

A visit to the disputed territories by a Russian leader would serve strong notice to Japan, which maintains that Russia is illegally occupying the islands and demands their return.

If the visit indeed takes place, the Japanese government is expected to react strongly, with potentially harmful consequences for bilateral talks on resolving the dispute.

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