As relations between Russia and Japan deteriorate over the war in Ukraine, Japan has, for the first time in almost 20 years, described four disputed islands as “illegally occupied” by Russia.
Relations between Russia and Japan have soured since the invasion of Ukraine was launched back in February, and this appears to be the first time Japan has invoked such language in almost two decades.
Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs also referred to the islands, which Russia calls the Southern Kurils, as “Northern Territories” in its annual diplomatic report released Friday.
According to Japanese public broadcaster NHK, Japan has not referred to the islands as being “illegally occupied” since 2003.
The report states that Japan sees the islands as “Japanese territories over which Japan holds sovereign rights, but are currently illegally occupied by Russia.”
Located off the coast of the Japanese island of Hokkaido, the disputed territories were captured by Soviet forces following Japan's surrender to Allied Forces in 1945.
The disagreement over who has rightful ownership of these islands has resulted in one of the world's longest-running unresolved territorial disputes, causing friction between Japan and Russia for decades.
Some background: Back in 2019 the leaders of Russia and Japan said at a meeting in Moscow that they remain committed to eventually signing a peace treaty, decades after the end of World War II, but that serious differences remain over the fate of a small group of islands off the coast of Japan.
The disputed territory, located off the coast of the Japanese island of Hokkaido, consists of four separate islands: Iturup, known in Japanese as Etorofu, Kunashir, or Kunashiri, Shikotan and the islet group of Habomai.
The islands were occupied by Soviet forces at the end of WWII, when as many as 17,000 Japanese citizens were expelled. Around 19,000 settlers currently live on the islands, according to intelligence firm Stratfor.