Moscow: A top Russian official on Monday
visited two of the Pacific islands at the centre of a
simmering territorial dispute with Japan, provoking an angry
protest from Tokyo.
Igor Shuvalov, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin`s
influential first deputy in charge of economic affairs,
visited Kunashir and Iturup islands, two of the four Kuril
Islands that are claimed by Japan, his spokesman said to a news agency.
Accompanied by senior government officials and
businessmen, he was inspecting progress of a government
programme to develop the islands through 2015, the spokesman
said on condition of anonymity.
"The main recipe for a region that is successful
socially and economically is the strengthening of competition
among small businesses and the development of infrastructure,"
Shuvalov said in comments relayed by his spokesman.
"A competitive atmosphere in the region should be
The visit risks further eroding ties between Tokyo and
Moscow which were hit hard after President Dmitry Medvedev
visited Kunashir on November 1 in the first ever visit by a
Russian leader to the territory, when he pledged new
investment for the islands.
Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan immediately voiced
disappointment over Shuvalov`s visit.
"It is very regrettable," Kan told reporters, adding
that the Japanese foreign ministry had protested at the visit
to the Russian ambassador in Tokyo.
The Kuril Islands, which lie north of Japan`s Hokkaido
island, have been controlled by Moscow since they were seized
by Soviet troops at the end of World War II, but Tokyo claims
the southernmost four as Japanese territory.
The sparsely populated islands, where residents eke
out a threadbare living, are rich in gold and silver and lie
in waters abundant in marine life.
Russia in recent years has become increasingly
assertive in the row, saying the islands are an important part
of its territory.
Medvedev`s visit became the topic of talks between the
Kremlin chief and Kan in Japan last month when the Japanese
premier "voiced protest" over the trip. Moscow said at the
time it would be best "to do without emotional statements."
The territorial dispute has hampered efforts to boost
economic cooperation between the two states and Russia last
month proposed to change the approach to the dispute, focusing
on economics instead.