July 27 (UPI) — Japan delivered a muted response after Russia’s prime minister visited an island in the northern Pacific that is also claimed by Japan.
Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said Tuesday he would “refrain from making specific comments” about Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin’s visit to the Russian-held Iturup Island, one of the four southernmost Kuril islands.
But Kato also said it is important for stakeholders to “not harm Japan’s legal position,” Yomiuri Shimbun reported.
Japan and Russia have taken turns summoning each other’s ambassadors after Mishustin’s visit.
The Russian premier visited a fish-processing factory on the island Monday, the South China Morning Post reported. According to the Wall Street Journal, Moscow was ready to start military drills on the island, a move that would irritate Japan amid the Tokyo Olympics.
Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russia’s Vladimir Putin reached an agreement in 2016 to launch “joint economic activities” on the four Russian-held South Kuril Islands.
The deal, which included a Japanese pledge to invest $43 billion in the Russian-administered territory, was supposed to look past the territorial dispute.
At the end of World War II, Soviet forces seized the islands in the northern Pacific and forced 17,000 Japanese residents to flee. The two countries have refused to sign a peace treaty involving the islands.
Russia insists Russian law would apply to any economic activities on them. But Tokyo has argued that Moscow is illegally occupying the islands and Russian law would be unacceptable.
Mishustin’s visit could be exploiting a legal loophole in the joint agreement between the two countries.
Tsukamoto Takashi, an associate political science and economics professor at Meiji University, told the Post that the visit does not contradict the 2016 agreement, which focused on economic cooperation while directly avoiding the island dispute.
Russia has said its military drills are to be held for a month, according to the Yomiuri.