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Putin to visit Japan in December: Kremlin

Moscow (AFP): President Vladimir Putin will visit Japan in December as Moscow and Tokyo strive to ease old tensions over four disputed islands, the Kremlin said Tuesday.

Tokyo-Moscow relations are hamstrung by a row dating back to the end of World War II when Soviet troops seized the southernmost islands in the Pacific Kuril chain, known as the Northern Territories in Japan.

“Vladimir Putin’s long-delayed visit to Japan will take place in December,” Kremlin aide Yury Ushakov told reporters.

“The time and date have already been agreed to, but we will announce them with the approval of the Japanese side.”

The tensions have prevented the countries from signing a peace treaty formally ending wartime hostilities, hindering trade and investment ties.

Putin — who last visited Japan in 2005 — is set to meet Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Friday on the sidelines of an economic forum in the far eastern Russian city of Vladivostok.

Senior Russian officials, including foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, energy minister Alexander Novak and Igor Sechin, the head of oil giant Rosneft — are also set to take part in talks with the Japanese delegation, Ushakov said.

Abe visited Russia in May and the Kremlin then raised the possibility of a return visit by Putin before the end of the year as both sides look to rekindle talks aimed at resolving the territorial dispute.

The Kremlin at the time dismissed hopes of any major breakthrough but played up Abe’s visit as a symbol of warming ties despite Western attempts to isolate Putin.

Tokyo is closely allied with Washington and has slapped sanctions on Moscow over its annexation of Crimea and the unrest in Ukraine.

Over the years, leaders from the two nations have tried to make headway on resolving the row but a solution has proved elusive and still looks some way off.

Foreign minister Lavrov said earlier this year that Russia wants to “move forward” its ties with Japan but is not prepared to budge on the “result of World War II”.

Russia has angered Japan recently by building new modern compounds for its troops stationed on two of the disputed islands.

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev infuriated Tokyo last year when he visited the islands, which are home to some 19,000 Russians.