Japanese media have largely misinterpreted Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s statement on the referendum over the disputed Kuril Islands, a Russian diplomatic source said on Tuesday.
Japan’s national broadcaster NHK cited Lavrov on Sunday as saying that the fate of the disputed Kuril islands in the Pacific Ocean should be decided in a national referendum.
“It is a blatant distortion of the minister’s words,” a source in the Russian delegation accompanying Lavrov on his Asia-Pacific tour said. “We regard such interpretations as provocation. No politician in his right mind would ever put this issue for a referendum."
Meanwhile, the official transcript of Lavrov’s interview published on the Russian Foreign Ministry website quotes the minister as saying when asked about the Kuril Islands issue: “In our case, one way or another, this is an issue that can only be resolved through a referendum.”
In line with Russian law, issues related to border changes must be put to a referendum.
The row over the South Kuril Islands, which are 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.
Russia has repeatedly stated that its sovereignty over the four islands, annexed by the Soviet Union after the war, has indisputable international and legal foundations.
The long-standing territorial dispute escalated in November 2010 following a visit by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to one of the islands. Japanese authorities called Medvedev's trip "inexcusable rudeness," sparking an angry reaction from the Kremlin.