MOSCOW – Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga rejected criticism by Russia on Wednesday, after Moscow summoned Japan’s ambassador and accused Tokyo of trying to interfere in Russian domestic affairs.
Earlier in the day, Russian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Igor Morgulov admonished Japan’s Ambassador Toyohisa Kozuki over what Morgulov is reported to have described as “commentary” by Japan about recent Russian visits to and military activities on disputed islands off Hokkaido.
In the meeting, Morgulov characterized statements by Tokyo as “tantamount to attempts to meddle in Russia’s internal affairs,” according to a report by Russian news agency TASS.
Such criticism was “unacceptable,” Suga countered later, adding that the ambassador had also stated that during the meeting.
On Aug. 2, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev visited Etorofu, the largest of four Russian-held islands off Hokkaido known in Japan as the Northern Territories.
Around the same time, Moscow announced large-scale military drills in the area, including what the Russian defense ministry has described as a maneuver by airborne troops to secure a remote island territory against seizure. The ministry did not specify the name of the island.
The drills were set to involve 1,000 troops and hundreds of pieces of equipment, including Mi-8 assault helicopters, the ministry wrote in a statement.
Japan’s government has said Moscow warned it would conduct live fire exercises on Kunashiri, an island that is clearly visible from the coast of Hokkaido. Tokyo responded to the warning with a rebuke.
The Northern Territories comprise Kunashiri, Etorofu, Shikotan and the Habomai group of islets. The Soviet Union seized them days after Japan’s surrender in 1945.
The issue has long prevented the two sides from signing a post-war peace treaty. Moscow claims the islands were assigned to it by consent of the victors in World War II as part of the postwar settlement. A 1956 joint declaration states that Shikotan and the Habomai islet group would be transferred to Japan by the Soviet Union following the conclusion of a postwar peace treaty.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is pursuing talks with Russia over the matter, but progress so far has been limited. A visa-free program for Japanese tourists has been agreed, and there has been on-off talk of Japanese investment in the Northern Territories.
Abe is scheduled to attend an economic forum in Vladivostok in September. The government has suggested he may use the opportunity to sit down with Russian President Vladimir Putin. They last met at the Group of 20 summit in Osaka this summer.
Information from Reuters and Kyodo added