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Russian Reaches Japan From Kurile Islands On Rubber Boat, Asks For Political Asylum

Kunashir, is one of four islands known as the Southern Kuriles in Russia and the Northern Territories in Japan. (illustrative photo)

A Russian man has asked Japan for political asylum in Japan after making a treacherous trip in a rubber dinghy in the disputed Kurile Islands.

Japanese media reports said over the weekend that the 40-year-old man, whose identity was not revealed, left the Russian-administered island of Kunashir on August 17 and several days later was detained by Japanese border guards near the Japanese island of Hokkaido.

According to the reports, the man covered most of the 20-kilometer trip in a rubber dinghy before jumping into the water to swim the final part of his escape in a diving suit.

The reports also said that the man was taken to an immigration center in the city of Sapporo, where a decision on whether he will be granted asylum or deported back to Russia will be made.

Officials at Russia's General Consulate in Sapporo said that Japanese authorities had not provided them with any details on the situation.

"Despite the new details about the incident that appear in Japanese media with reference to their sources in police, Japan's official entities refuse to provide us with official information," the consulate wrote in a post on Facebook.

Russian media reports say that the man moved to Kunashir from the central region of Udmurtia three years ago via the state program on providing citizens with free land in the Far East.

Authorities in the city of Yuzhno-Kurilsk said the man worked as a tractor driver and cargo loader.

Russian police said they found Japanese posters on the walls of the man's house, while local authorities said that "he loved Japanese culture."

It is not clear if the man was a political, civil, or human rights activist.

In recent years, many opposition politicians, activists, journalists, and rights defenders have fled Russia for Europe or the United States amid the Kremlin's increased campaign to muzzle dissent.

The Soviet Union seized the Kurile Islands in the final days of World War II from Japan, which continues to assert territorial rights to the islands it calls the Northern Territories. The dispute has kept Russia and Japan from signing a peace treaty formally ending the war.

Decades of diplomatic efforts to negotiate a settlement have failed to produce a solution to the issue.