National / Politics

Japan protests video message from Putin celebrating new factory on disputed Russian-held isle off Hokkaido

Kyodo

Japan lodged a protest with Russia after President Vladimir Putin sent a video message to celebrate the opening of a new seafood-processing factory on disputed Shikotan Island, a government official said Friday.

Putin’s message, sent shortly before he met with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Vladivostok on Thursday to discuss a peace treaty to officially end World War II, was seen as flaunting Russia’s control of the island, which Japan claims along with three others off Hokkaido.

The head of the Foreign Ministry’s Russia Division, Tetsuji Miyamoto, on Thursday told a counselor at the Russian Embassy in Tokyo by phone that the move is “incompatible with Japan’s stance,” according to the official.

The islands were seized by the Soviet Union in the closing days of the war.

Tokyo argues the seizure was illegal and has demanded the islands be returned. The dispute has prevented the countries from signing a formal peace treaty more than seven decades on.

While Abe and Putin agreed last year to step up negotiations for a treaty, Russia recently hardened its stance on the issue, last month sending Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev to visit the largest of the isles, Etorofu.

In their meeting on the fringes of a regional economic forum, Abe and Putin agreed to continue “future-oriented” talks but did not make significant headway.

Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Kotaro Nogami said Abe repeated Japan’s stance on the islands, without giving further details.

Before returning to Tokyo on Friday, Abe met with Japanese business leaders and expressed satisfaction with progress in the economic cooperation plan between Japan and Russia that began in 2016.

Abe said the start of flights by Japan’s two major airlines from Narita Airport to Vladivostok next spring would “bring the Russian Far East closer.”

He also met with Gianni Infantino, president of the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA), the governing body of world soccer.

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