Russia has said its prime minister can go wherever he wants on Russian territory, following a Japanese diplomatic protest against his visit to a disputed string of islands.
Tokyo has set out an official diplomatic protest over the visit by prime minister Mikhail Mishustin to one of four Russian-held islands which Japan claims, a Japanese government spokesman said earlier today.
A Russian ambassador was called in, according to Russian news reports.
The islands, known to Japan as the Northern Territories and to Russia as the Kuril Islands, are off the northeast coast of Japan but follow a series of other small islands south of Russia which it also occupies.
The territorial dispute began when the then-Soviet Union seized them at the end of World War Two. However, Russia has so far stood in the way of peace negotiations regarding the islands.
The Russian prime minister is reportedly planning on making his own version of Britain’s Cayman Islands – a special economic zone island chain with no customs duties and a reduced set of taxes.
Mishustin added that the “unprecedented” economic measures were aimed at developing the islands.
Russia’s foreign ministry called on its Japanese ambassador in Moscow to speak out against Tokyo giving the protest the green light.
“Russian deputy foreign minister Igor Morgulov conveyed a strong protest to the Japanese side in connection with hostile steps taken by official Tokyo in recent days,” Russia’s foreign minister said in a statement.
Meanwhile, the Japanese embassy hit back saying that ambassador Toyohisa Kozuki described Mishustin’s trip as “going against our country’s consistent position on the Northern Territories”.
Japan has “strongly demanded that the Russian side take constructive actions to advance peace treaty negotiations”, the Japanese embassy said in a statement.
But Russia maintained that there was nothing wrong with its prime minister’s visit, despite the protests.
“As for the prime minister’s trip to Iturup island, he visits those Russian provinces that he sees fit,” president Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters.
Peskov added that Moscow will continue to work with Tokyo towards a peace treaty.