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MOSCOW, September 26 (RIA Novosti) – Moscow warned Tokyo on Thursday that it would restrict Japanese officials from traveling to the disputed Kuril Islands if such officials call for those islands to be returned to Russia.
“If, for some reason, Japanese officials are unable to abstain from public speeches about the ‘island issue’ after visiting Russian territory, we reserve the right to henceforth restrict their participation in such trips,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
The statement came as a response to a nationalist speech by Ichita Yamamoto, Japan’s minister for affairs relating to the Kuril Islands, which were seized by the Soviet Union during World War II and never returned.
The minister, who had recently visited the islands as part of a visa-free travel agreement, told reporters on Monday that the trip reinforced his belief that “the islands must be returned to Japan.”
Russia allows Japanese citizens to travel to the Kurils without a visa as a “humanitarian measure,” the Foreign Ministry’s statement said, adding that the measure was intended for “former residents of the islands to visit the graves of their ancestors.”
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New ties between Russia and Japan would mark not only a breakthrough in their relations but also a significant shift in Northeast Asia’s political dynamic. Both are secondary players in a region overshadowed by an increasingly assertive China, which has not hesitated to push against the boundaries of its neighbors.