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01:45 GMT +3 hours23 December 2014
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Russia Slams Japan for Northern Territories Day

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Japan’s observation of Northern Territories Day on Tuesday is not the best way to strengthen relations with Russia, the Russian Foreign Ministry said.

Japan’s observation of Northern Territories Day on Tuesday is not the best way to strengthen relations with Russia, the Russian Foreign Ministry said.

Russia “regrets” that Tokyo has once again chosen to voice “its official position in favor of ‘returning’ to Japan the South Kuril Islands, which belong to the Russian Federation,” the ministry said.

The row between Russia and Japan over the South Kurils, namely Iturup, Kunashir, Shikotan and Habomai, known as the Northern Territories in Japan, has prevented the two countries from signing a formal peace treaty since the end of World War II.

Japan annually marks February 7 as Northern Territories Day. It was on that day in 1855 Japan and Russia signed the Treaty of Commerce, Navigation and Delimitation, known as the Shimoda Treaty, in which the two countries confirmed that the four islands are Japanese territory. Japan’s government supports nationwide events on that day to raise awareness about the territorial dispute.

Moscow insists that the sparsely populated islands in the Kuril chain between Japan's northern island of Hokkaido and Russia's Far Eastern Kamchatka Peninsula became part of the Soviet Union when it annexed them at the end of World War II and that Russia’s sovereignty is not in doubt.

The ministry said Japan’s actions were “not the optimal way of cultivating positive tendencies in Russian-Japanese relations, strengthening the atmosphere of mutual understanding and trust between the two countries.”

Meanwhile, Russians attended an annual rally on Tuesday in front of the Japanese Consulate General in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, the capital of the Sakhalin Region in Russia’s Far East, defending the viewpoint that the four islands belong to Russia.

In 2010, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev sparked a diplomatic row with Tokyo by making the first ever visit by a Russian leader to the islands. He later said Russia would increase its military presence there.

Japan's then prime minister Naoto Kan called Medvedev’s visit an “inexcusable rudeness,” but Moscow said the Russian authorities would decide by themselves on their domestic trips.