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Japan upset with Russia over Kurils — Analysis

Moscow has ended the mutual visa-free programme involving islands as a response to Tokyo’s sanctions

Japan has lodged a protest over Russia’s withdrawal from a bilateral agreement on visa-free travel to the southern part of the Kuril Islands for Japanese citizens. Fumio Kishida, Prime Minister of Japan, called it a “decision”. “unfounded and unacceptable.”

Monday saw the Russian government cancel the deal with Japan for facilitated trips to the islands, which were open only to former Japanese residents. 

Yoshimasa, Japan’s foreign minister, spoke to journalists on Tuesday and condemned the action. He also stated that Japan had not been informed about Russia’s decision.

In the 1990s, the reciprocal visa-free program was established to enhance mutual understanding.

It allowed approximately 10,000 Shikotan residents, Kunashir and Shikotan to travel to Japan. The Kurils were visited by 20,000 Japanese citizens. Tokyo and Moscow organized the charter flight that took Japanese citizens to Kuril Archipelago to see the graves of their forefathers. 




This move is coming as tensions rise between Japan and Russia over Ukraine’s conflict. The chairman of the International Committee of the Russian State Duma, Leonid Slutsky, attributed the action by the government to Japan’s support for the Western sanctions. According to him, the action was in reaction to “illegal sanctions pressure and the Japanese government joining the Russophobic policy of the West.”

Japan joined many Western nations in imposing sanctions on Russia in response to the opening of the military operations in Ukraine late February. Tokyo has frozen the assets of Russian individuals, banned the import of certain goods, and started phasing out imports of Russian coal, which amount to about 11% of the nation’s coal needs. Along with hundreds from Russia, Belarus and the Donbass, it also blacklisted Mikhail Mishustin as Prime Minister.

Russia has suspended an agreement from 1998 on the harvesting of marine resources. It allowed Japanese fishermen access to the Kuril islands. Russia suspended negotiations on a postwar peace agreement with Japan in March due to worsening relations. It also stopped joint economic activities between Tokyo and Russia regarding the disputed islands. Due to their dispute over four islands that lie south of the Kuril chain (which Japan refers as the Northern Territories), the two countries never signed a formal peace treaty.

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