Russia halts Japan peace treaty talks over sanctions

(Reuters) – Russia has withdrawn from peace treaty talks with Japan and frozen joint economic projects related to the disputed Kuril islands due to sanctions imposed by Tokyo over Ukraine, setting off an angry reaction from Japan.

Russia and Japan have still not formally ended World War Two hostilities because of the standoff over islands just off Japan’s northernmost island of Hokkaido, known in Russia as the Kurils and in Japan as the Northern Territories. The islands were seized by the Soviets at the end of World War Two.

“Under the current conditions Russia does not intend to continue negotiations with Japan on a peace treaty,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement, citing Japan’s “openly unfriendly positions and attempts to damage the interests of our country”.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said he strongly opposed Russia’s decision, terming it “unfair” and “completely unacceptable”.

Japan last week announced plans to revoke Russia’s most-favoured nation trade status, expand the scope of asset freezes against Russian elites and ban imports of certain products. Last year, President Vladimir Putin said that both Tokyo and Moscow wanted good relations and said it was absurd they had not reached a peace agreement. Russia has also withdrawn from talks with Japan about joint business projects on the Kuril islands and ended visa-free travel by Japanese citizens, the statement said.