Russia has summoned the Japanese ambassador and accused Tokyo of deliberately ramping up tensions ahead of a planned visit by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for talks with President Vladimir Putin on formally ending World War II hostilities.
Russia's Foreign Ministry on January 9 said it "invited" Japanese Ambassador Toyohisa Kozuki to the ministry over comments made from Tokyo about the possible return to Japan of a disputed Pacific island chain.
The dispute over the chain -- which Russia refers to as the Southern Kuriles and Japan calls the Northern Territories -- has prevented Moscow and Tokyo from a signing of a formal peace treaty to end World War II.
Soviet forces seized the islands at the end of the war, and Russia continues to occupy and administer the territory, although it has allowed visits by former Japanese residents and family members in recent years.
Russia's Foreign Ministry said recent Japanese government statements represented an apparent attempt to "artificially incite the atmosphere regarding the peace-treaty problem and try to enforce its own scenario of settling the issue."
The ministry cited Tokyo's remarks about the need to prepare island residents for a return of the chain to Japan and about dropping demands for Moscow to pay compensation to former Japanese residents of the islands. It also took issue with Abe's comments that 2019 would see a breakthrough in the negotiations.
"Such statements flagrantly distort the essence of the agreements between Japanese and Russian leaders to accelerate the talks' progress" and "disorientate" members of the public in both countries, the Russian ministry said.
It said Japan was attempting to "force its own scenario" on Russia over the talks.
Following Kozuki's meetings at the Russian ministry, Japan's Foreign Ministry was quoted by Russian state-run TASS news agency as saying Tokyo would continue negotiations with Russia on a peace treaty "in [a] calm atmosphere."
The Japanese ministry said Kozuki explained Tokyo's position on the matter to Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov, but it did not provide details.
"The Japanese government will continue the negotiations process in the framework of its main position -- to resolve the territorial dispute and then signing a peace treaty," the ministry added.
Russia's position on the Kuriles remains unchanged, that Japan must accept the outcome of World War II, including Russia's sovereignty over the disputed islands, the Russian ministry stressed.
Russia has military bases on the archipelago and has deployed missile systems on the islands.
Abe is tentatively scheduled to visit Russia on January 21 for talks with Putin on the peace treaty, Russian news agencies have reported.
The two leaders met in November and agreed to accelerate talks to formally end World War II.
In an interview published on December 17, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told the tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda that Moscow could hand Japan the two smaller islands, Shikotan and a group of islets called Habomai, if Tokyo "recognizes the results" of World War II -- something he said Tokyo was "not ready for yet."
Recognition of the results, in Russia's eyes, means that Japan would have to accept Russian possession of the disputed islands as legal, potentially ruling out any further dispute or claims by Tokyo on the two larger, more populated islands, Iturup and Kunashir.