The Russian government has conveyed its concern to Tokyo over joint exercises conducted by the Self-Defense Forces and the U.S. military in Hokkaido earlier this month, a Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said in a statement Friday.

The statement said that Russia has no choice but to regard the joint exercises as a serious challenge and potential threat to Russia’s national security due to the exercise venues’ geographical proximity to the Russian border and the scale of the drills.

The Russian ministry summoned a senior official of the Japanese Embassy in Moscow to convey this view on Dec. 17, according to the statement released by the spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova.

The statement said that the Russian side has also lodged a strong protest to Japan over an exhibition about four Russian-held Pacific islands at the center of the two countries’ long-standing territorial dispute.

Japan’s claim of sovereignty over the islands is illegal, it said, adding that the country took provocative action again despite a similar protest made by the Russian side last year. The exhibition was held in Tokyo early this month.

The islands off Hokkaido were seized by the former Soviet Union from Japan at the end of World War II and have long been claimed by Tokyo. The territorial spat has prevented Tokyo and Moscow from concluding a peace treaty to formally end their wartime hostilities.

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