Japan protests against island facilities as countries step up efforts on discord
Moscow said it had built new barracks for troops on a disputed chain of islands near Japan and would build more facilities for armored vehicles, prompting a diplomatic protest from Tokyo.
Russia's Ministry of Defense released a statement on Monday, in which it planned to shift troops next week into four housing complexes on two of the four disputed islands, known as the Southern Kurils in Russia and the Northern Territories in Japan.
Japan's local media said 3,500 Russian troops are already deployed on the two larger islands as part of a "military buildup".
The news came after the Kremlin said Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe might visit Russia on Jan 21, as the two countries step up efforts to defuse the territorial dispute that has prevented them from signing a World War II peace treaty, leaving the two countries technically still at war.
In Tokyo, Foreign Minister Taro Kono told a regular news conference that Japan would lodge a protest, adding that it would clearly state Tokyo's position during negotiations.
"The premise of future negotiations is solving the island issue and concluding a peace treaty," he added.
But Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said earlier that accepting the legality of Russia's effective control of the four disputed islands as a consequence of the war would be an "indispensable first step" for Japan to take in order to advance Tokyo-Moscow peace treaty talks.
Japan maintains the four Pacific islands are its inherent territory illegally occupied by Russia after Japan's surrender in World War II, while Russia says the seizure was legitimate and urges Japan to recognize the outcome of the war.
Japan has hoped in recent years to bring progress to the territorial talks through deepening economic cooperation with Russia and helping Russia develop its Far East presence.
Analysts, however, have pointed out that though Russia might be interested in economic cooperation with Japan, it is unlikely to make concessions on the territorial issue.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe held talks on this issue in Singapore this November. But so far there is no progress made on the signing of the peace treaty.
Sun Cheng, an expert from China University of Political Science and Law, said: "The Japan-Russia relationship has been closely related to the Japan-US relationship since the 1950s" and there have also been concerns over the attitude of the United States, as Tokyo's military ally Washington has a tense relationship with Moscow.
The Kremlin spokesman also emphasized on Monday that Moscow will take into account Japan's relations with the US in the peace treaty talks.
Sun noted that in the defense guidelines Japan released on Tuesday, it has listed Russia as one of the "entities with massive military capabilities with which Japan must concern itself", which he believed may further deteriorate the bilateral relationship.
Xinhua and Reuters contributed to this story.