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Japan Protests Russian Plan To Lay Cable To Disputed Kurile Islands

Iturup, one of four islands known as the Kuriles in Russia
Iturup, one of four islands known as the Kuriles in Russia

Japan has lodged a protest against Russia's plan to lay fiber-optic cables to disputed islands that lay between the two countries, calling the construction work illegal and "extremely deplorable."

"It is extremely deplorable that such a project is being carried out under the Russian occupation that has no legal basis," government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said on June 11, speaking of the four islands known in Russia as the Kurile Islands and in Japan as the Northern Territories.

Ties between Japan and Russia have been strained for decades by the dispute over the islands, which were occupied by the Soviet Union in the closing days of World War II but are claimed by Tokyo.

Suga said Tokyo has lodged protests with both Russia and China over the fiber-optic project, which is being carried out by the Chinese communications giant Huawei Technologies.

Japanese media reported over the weekend that Russia plans to lay the cables between the disputed islands and Russia's Pacific island of Sakhalin. Media said Moscow had notified Tokyo of the project.

The dispute over the islands has prevented the two countries from signing a peace treaty to formally end wartime hostilities. When Russia took control over the islands, 17,000 Japanese residents were forced to move to the nearby Japanese island of Hokkaido.

A visit by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to Russia last month yielded no movement on the issue. Suga said that Japan will continue to "patiently negotiate with Russia" over the matter.

Strategically, control of the islands ensures Russia has year-round access to the Pacific Ocean for its Pacific Fleet of warships and submarines based in Vladivostok, through a strait that does not freeze over in winter.

Based on reporting by dpa and AFP

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