Global General

Medvedev visits Kuril Islands, vows to improve local living

Updated: 2010-11-01 19:22
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MOSCOW - Russian President Dmitry Medvedev Monday visited Kunashiri Island, one of the Russian-held islands also claimed by Japan, Russia's local media said.

Medvedev visits Kuril Islands, vows to improve local living
Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev (R) and Sakhalin region Governor Alexander Khoroshavi talk in front of a church on Kunashiri Island, one of four islands known as the Southern Kuriles in Russia and Northern Territories in Japan, November 1, 2010. [Photo/Agencies] 

Medvedev is the first leader from Russia or the former Soviet Union to travel to any of the disputed islands, which are called the Northern Territories in Japan and the Southern Kurils in Russia.

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He arrived in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, capital of the Russian Far East province of Sakhalin, earlier in the day on the way back from his trip to Vietnam, where he attended meetings of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and left there aboard a plane for Kunashiri, the RIA Novosti news agency said, quoting an official source.

During his trip, Medvedev visited a family living on the island and talked with local residents over tea.

"We want people to remain here. Development here is important. We will definitely be investing money here," the president was quoted by local media as saying when asked about the island's growing population outflow.

Medvedev promised that the living conditions on the Kuril Islands will someday be like those in central Russia.

In addition, the president inspected several construction sites including a geothermal energy station, checked the prices of basic products in a big grocery store, and bought some seafoods from the store.

Upon Medvedev's arrival on the islands, Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara on Monday summoned Russian ambassador in Tokyo to lodge a protest against the visit.

The Russian envoy, however, insisted that the president's visit is Russia's domestic issue, according to the report.

Russian Foreign Ministry on Monday also said it cannot understand the reaction of Japan. The Interfex news agency quoted a ministry source as saying that "Russia's stance on the issue remains in force and there have been no changes."

In September, Medvedev said that the four disputed Pacific islands "are an important region of our country" and he would "visit them in the near future without fail," whereas the Japanese side said Medvedev's possible visit would create "serious obstacles" in bilateral relations.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Saturday that the president "independently determines the routes of travel across the country."

Lavrov stressed that the visit would not affect relations between the two countries.

Lavrov said he saw "no connection" between Medvedev's trip to Kuril Islands and the relations between the two countries, RIA Novosti news agency reported.

The Kremlin has consistently claimed that it would be absurd to discuss with foreign states on the visit of Russian president to Kuril islands.

However, local media also quoted a source from the presidential administration, saying that Moscow should appropriately consider Medvedev's trip, because the president was scheduled to attend the upcoming Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Japan on November 13 to 14.

The four disputed Pacific islands, known as the Northern Territories in Japan and the Southern Kurils in Russia, were occupied by Soviet troops in 1945 and are currently under Russian control.

Russia and Japan have long been at odds due to the territorial dispute over the islands, which has blocked a peace treaty between the two countries since the end of World War II.

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