Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 190

Russia’s Foreign Ministry this weekend expressed some consternation over recent reports in the Japanese press describing the passage this past July of two Japanese warships through the Urup strait — a strategic waterway linking the Sea of Okhotsk and the Pacific Ocean which is near the disputed Kurils Islands. Japanese newspapers had said it was the first time that Japanese warships have passed through the waterway since World War II, and described the passage as proof of improving relations between Russia and Japan. Japan’s Self-Defense Forces had dispatched the vessels as part of an exchange of visits with the Russian navy, a Japanese newspaper said. (Kyodo, October 2)

In an explanation sent to the Duma, Russia’s Foreign Ministry on October 10 pointed out that the strait is an international waterway and thus open to navigation and passage by warships of any country. But Russian diplomats questioned the timing of the passage through the straits — and the Japanese media’s publication of it — insofar as they come in the runup to an unprecedented informal meeting between President Boris Yeltsin and Japanese prime minister Ryutaro Hashimoto scheduled for November 1-2. "Without having any claims on the Japanese from a legal point of view, we think that the reports were probably not quite timely, and that the very passage should have been considered more profoundly," one Russian diplomat said. The Russian Duma’s "Anti-NATO" group on October 10 issued a statement saying that the action by the Japanese navy could be considered as nothing other than a show of strength in connection with an effort by Japan to exert its claim to the disputed Kuril Islands.

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