VLADIVOSTOK, RUSSIA – The central government says it will lodge a protest with Moscow after a senior political figure in the Kremlin paid an official visit to one of the Russian-held islands off Hokkaido on Wednesday.
Sergei Ivanov, chief of staff of the Presidential Executive Office and a close adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin, inspected an airport on Etorofu that opened Monday.
The facility, located near Shana, known in Russia as Kurilsk, has a 2,300-meter-long runway and will serve both civilian and military flights.
Russia refers to Etorofu island as Iturup and says it is non-negotiable Russian territory.
Also in the delegation was Deputy Prime Minister Yury Trutnev, who serves as head of the Russian Far Eastern district, and the governor of Sakhalin Region, Alexander Khoroshavin, Russian sources said.
Russia has offered to return the smaller islands off Hokkaido to Japan. The islands include Kunashiri, Shikotan and the Habomai islet group, which Russia calls the Southern Kurils.
There has been a string of high-profile visits to the islands by Russian officials since Putin’s return to the presidency in May 2012. Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev visited Kunashiri in July of that year and Agriculture Minister Nikolai Fyodorov followed two months later.
In Tokyo, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference that Ivanov’s visit was hurtful to the Japanese people. He indicated that Japan would file a protest with Russia.
Bilateral ties have been strained over the crisis in Ukraine.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has proposed holding talks with Russian President Putin on the sidelines of an annual summit meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum to be held in November in Beijing, apparently indicating his willingness to maintain dialogue despite events in Ukraine.
But Japan has imposed sanctions on Russian companies and several dozen officials, and a proposed visit to Japan by Putin this fall has now shifted to spring 2015 at the earliest.
In a related move, Masahiko Komura, the Liberal Democratic Party’s vice president, said Wednesday he hopes to talk with senior Russian officials to help improve Japan’s ties with Russia when he visits the country in November.
Komura, a former foreign minister, is making arrangements to meet with a range of officials, including lower house Speaker Sergei Naryshkin.