Prime Minister Fumio Kishida indicated to former residents of four Russian-held islands off Hokkaido on Tuesday that he will prioritize reopening talks with Moscow on allowing them to visit their ancestral graves as soon as possible.

Kishida was speaking at an annual gathering in Tokyo of former residents of the four islands — known as the Northern Territories in Japan — and their families and supporters.

A joint declaration by the government and related organizations condemned Russia’s "illegal occupation" of the four northern islands by the Soviet Union 77 years ago at the end of World War II, adding that it was unacceptable that it still continues. It marked the first time since 2018 that the phrase "illegal occupation" had been used in the declaration.