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Russia to boost defences on Kuril islands: Medvedev

Japan 'unwavering' in island row with Russia: FM
Tokyo (AFP) Feb 10, 2011 - Japan's foreign minister said Thursday that Tokyo's claim over the disputed Kuril islands remains "absolutely unwavering" despite Russia's decision to boost its military presence on the territory. Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara, who is due to visit Moscow from Friday, said Russia's occupation of the islands is illegal and shrugged off President Dmitry Medvedev's order the previous day to deploy extra weaponry there. The Kurils, called the Northern Territories by Japan, have been controlled by Moscow since they were seized by Soviet troops in 1945 but their status remains a major stumbling block in Moscow-Tokyo relations.

The dispute -- which has prevented Russia and Japan from signing a peace treaty to formally end World War II -- flared up after Medvedev visited the islands three months ago and then reignited a war of words in recent days. Maehara, hours before he was due to leave for Moscow, told reporters that "under international law, the Northern Territories are the inherent territories of Japan, and Russia's occupation has no legal basis under international law". "Regardless of how many (Russian) senior officials go there and who goes there, and whether it increases or decreases its military presence, the legal value (of Russia's claim) does not change," he said. "Our resolve remains absolutely unwavering."

Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan earlier this week characterised Medvedev's November tour to the islands as an "unforgivable outrage", speaking on a day when Japanese nationalists rallied for the return of the islands. Medvedev on Wednesday again described the islands as an "inseparable" part of Russia's territory and a strategic Russian region, and ordered an expansion of its military presence on the remote archipelago. Kan's top spokesman and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano tried to tone down the rhetoric on Thursday, saying only that Japan was "carefully monitoring" Russia's increased military activities in the region. He said Japan is aiming to conclude a peace treaty with Russia, based on various existing agreements, while maintaining its claims over the islands, located between Japan's Hokkaido island and Russia's Kamchatka peninsula.
by Staff Writers
Moscow (AFP) Feb 9, 2011
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev Wednesday ordered the deployment of extra weaponry on the Kuril islands claimed by Japan, escalating tensions in a dispute that has festered since World War II.

Bluntly describing the Pacific islands as an "inseparable" part of Russia's territory and a strategic Russian region, Medvedev also ordered an expansion of its presence on the remote archipelago.

His comments represented a drastic sharpening of Moscow's rhetoric in the dispute with Tokyo after Japan's Prime Minister Naoto Kan called Medvedev's unprecedented visit to the islands in November an "unforgivable outrage".

The remarks are also sure to create an icy atmosphere when Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara visits Moscow on Friday for previously scheduled talks with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.

"The additional weapons which will be deployed there must be sufficient and modern to ensure the security of these islands which are an inseparable part of the Russian Federation," Medvedev said.

"We will make every necessary effort to strengthen our presence on the Kuril islands. This is our strategic region," he said at a meeting with Russia's ministers of defence and regional development shown on state television.

"Ensure that all the necessary decisions are carried out, the deliveries (of weapons) are realised and all the necessary reorganisational measures are fulfilled," Medvedev told Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov.

Serdyukov, who also angered Japan when he visited the islands last week, replied that the defence ministry would review what additional arms were needed on the Kurils and would report back at the end of February.

"We will prepare a programme by the end of the month. Now we understand what weapons need to be there. We will take a decision by the end of month," Serdyukov was quoted as saying.

A defence ministry source told the ITAR-TASS news agency that the Mistral class warships Russia is buying from France would be used by the Russian Pacific Fleet "including for the protection of the South Kurils".

The deputy head of the defence committee for Russia's lower house of parliament, Igor Barinov, said Medvedev's announcement was a response to "anti-Russian hysteria" in Japan.

"This decision is mainly of a political nature and tells Japan that there is going to be no revision of the results of World War II and it will cool hotheads in Tokyo," he told the RIA Novosti news agency.

The Kurils, which lie just north of Japan's Hokkaido island, have been controlled by Moscow since they were seized by Soviet troops in 1945 but their status remains a major problem in Moscow-Tokyo relations.

The dispute surrounds the southernmost four islands -- known in Russian as Iturup, Shikotan, Habomai and Kunashir -- which are still claimed by Tokyo and collectively known in Japan as the Northern Territories.

Japan does not contest Russia's sovereignty over the northernmost islands but has repeatedly demanded the return of the other four. Serdykov last week angered Japan by visiting Iturup and Kunashir.

The row also prevented Russia and Japan from signing a peace treaty to formally end World War II and stymied attempts to bring bilateral economic relations to their full potential.

The islanders -- buffeted by storm winds and often battling fog -- eke out a tough existence with fishing the main industry and Medvedev called for greater tourism and foreign investment.

"The main thing is that the people who live there should feel they are no worse off than those on the mainland," he said.

Russian foreign ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said ahead of Maehara's visit that now was "the perfect time to return our relations to their normal track."

But he added: "First and foremost, we expect our Japanese colleagues to fundamentally change their attitude towards Russia."

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