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Dmitry Medvedev visits Far East island chain disputed by Japan

The Russian Prime Minister embarked on his controversial second visit to the Southern Kuriles, seized by Soviet Union after World War II.

Dmitry Medvedev 7 3 2012Enlarge
Russia's Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev visits the Pacific port of Vladivostok, on July 2, 2012. (DMITRY ASTAKHOV/AFP/Getty Images)

Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian Prime Minister, has embarked on his controversial second visit to the Southern Kuriles, part of a remote island chain seized by Soviet Union at the end of World War II and still claimed by Japan.

Medvedev in November 2010 outraged Japan by becoming the first Russian president to visit the islands, which Tokyo refers to as its Northern Territories, Radio Free Europe reported.

The island of Kunashir, where Medvedev landed Tuesday, is only about less than 10 miles from Hokkaido, Japan's northernmost island. The chain is 4,350 miles from Moscow, off Russia's eastern coast. 

The waters are believed to have oil and natural gas deposits, as well as being prime fishing locations, according to the Japan Daily Press.

Tokyo's claim over the islands has prevented the two nations ever signing a formal World War II peace treaty, meaning they are still technically at war. 

The Japan Times also noted that Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and Russian President Vladimir Putin resolved in June to hold bilateral negotiations over the islands.

On Monday, officials said a Russian soldier shot and killed up to three accountants at a branch of the Russian Central Bank on the island of Kunashir before turning the gun on himself.

Medvedev is making the trip as part of a four-day tour of the Russian Far East accompanied by 10 ministers, the Japan Times reported.

Ahead of his visit to the Southern Kuriles, Medvedev called them "an important part of the Russian land."

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/europe/russia/120703/dmitry-medvedev-russia-japan-kuril-kuriles-soviet-union