Russian President Vladimir Putin may visit one of the Russian-held islands claimed by Japan next week, a member of a group including former residents who have just returned from the islands said Monday.
Hisayoshi Ono, a Toyama prefectural assembly member who headed the group, said he had heard from Lev Sedikh, chief of Anama village on Shikotan, one of the four islands, that Putin could visit Shikotan or Kunashiri next Monday.
Speaking in a press conference in Nemuro, Hokkaido, Ono said he heard about the plan on Sunday before leaving Shikotan as he was wrapping up a visa-free program designed to promote exchanges between Russian residents and former islanders.
Hideki Uyama, director of the Japanese Foreign Ministry's Russian Division who accompanied the group, told reporters that the information about Putin's possible visit could be characterized as a "rumor."
Uyama also heard about the possible visit by the Russian leader from the Anama village mayor but declined to comment whether the ministry had verified the information.
Japan and Russia are at odds over the sovereignty of Etorofu, Kunashiri, Shikotan and the Habomai islet group, seized by the Soviet Union shortly after Japan's surrender in World War II on Aug. 15, 1945.
The row over the four islands -- called the Northern Territories in Japan and the Southern Kurils in Russia -- has prevented the countries from concluding a peace treaty.
Among developments in recent years that have strained ties between Tokyo and Moscow, then Russian President Dmitry Medvedev visited Kunashiri in November 2010. Medvedev visited Kunashiri again last July as prime minister.