Moscow disappointed and surprised at Japan’s protest over visit to Kurils

(RIA Novosti / Sergey Krasnukhov)
The Russian Foreign Ministry is disappointed over Tokyo’s negative reaction to the working visit of Deputy Prime Minister Sergey Ivanov and other top officials to the Kuril Islands on Sunday.

­The deputy premier said he is “surprised” at Japan’s protest over the trip.

On May 15, Sergey Ivanov visited the Lesser Kuril Islands along with Transport Minister Igor Levitin, Economic Development Minister Elvira Nabiullina, Natural Resources Minister Yury Trutnev, Minister of Regional Development Viktor Basargin and Governor of the Sakhalin Region Aleksandr Khoroshavin.

"My visit and the visit of my colleagues did not aim to vex anybody or to prove anything to anyone,” Ivanov said on Monday commenting on Japan’s protest.

The deputy prime minister added that it is not the first time he has visited the Kuril Islands and that before there was no such reaction from the Japanese side. Ivanov noted that his goal was to do an on-site check of how a federal program for the development of the Kurils for 2007-2015 is being implemented.

“In financial terms, it is not that big, but the program is very important so that Russians living on the South Kurils do not feel themselves separated from the rest of Russia,” Ivanov stressed.

Earlier on Monday, Japanese Foreign Minister Takeaki Matsumoto summoned Russian ambassador Mikhail Bely to the Foreign Ministry to declare an official protest.

“This fact hurts the feelings of our people and disappoints us,” Matsumoto stated.

“In turn, we set out our stance on the issue,” Mikhail Bely told Itar-Tass. “We expressed regret over the fact that the Japanese side doubts our sovereign right to make visits to these islands. We also pointed out that the trip was aimed at supervising the program of the social and economic development of the region.”

Japan considers the Russian Kurils its “Northern Territories”, despite the official recognition of the islands as part of Russia by the United Nations Charter and a number of international accords signed after World War II. Japanese territorial claims have so far prevented the signing of a peace treaty between Moscow and Tokyo.

Recent visits of Russia’s top officials to the Kuril Islands, including President Dmitry Medvedev’s trip last November, have angered Tokyo, which even recalled its ambassador from Moscow, though later he resumed his mission.