2010/12/05

Kremlin mocks Japan FM's aerial visit to disputed islands

MOSCOW, December  4, 2010 (AFP) - A top Kremlin official joked Saturday that Moscow did not object to the Japanese foreign minister's aerial visit of islands disputed with Russia, saying he was welcome to look at Russian nature.

Japan's Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara on Saturday flew on board a coastguard patrol aeroplane near the southern Kuril islands that have been at the centre of a dispute between Moscow and Tokyo since the end of World War II.

The aerial visit came just over a month after Russian President Dmitry Medvedev made a brief unscheduled trip to one of the islands, provoking an angry reaction from Japan.

"No one, Japan included, is banned from admiring the beauties of Russian nature," the Itar-Tass news agency cited a highly placed Kremlin official as saying.

The Kurils are a long chain of islands that stretch south of Russia's Kamchatka peninsula. The southernmost four were seized by the Soviet Union at the close of World War II and are controlled by Russia.

The dispute has prevented the signing of a post-war peace treaty and has hampered efforts to boost economic cooperation between the two neighbours.