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Russia to reject protests from mid-ranking Japanese diplomats

This combination photo shows Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, left, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and the Habomai islets in the Northern Territories. (Kyodo)

MOSCOW (Kyodo) -- The Russian Foreign Ministry said Thursday it will no longer listen to protests by phone from mid-ranking Japanese diplomats regarding actions carried out on the four islands at the center of a bilateral territorial spat.

    The announcement came after a counselor at the Japanese Embassy in Russia on Tuesday lodged a protest over Moscow's shooting practice in waters near one of the islands off its northernmost main island of Hokkaido.

    Japan's Vice Foreign Minister Takeo Akiba also lodged a protest with Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Titov during a meeting in Tokyo on Tuesday.

    The four islands, known as the Northern Territories in Japan and Southern Kurils in Russia, were seized in 1945 by the Soviet Union following Japan's surrender in World War II. The dispute has prevented Tokyo and Moscow from concluding a postwar peace treaty.

    Tokyo has argued the islands were seized illegally, while Moscow maintains it acquired them as part of the war's outcome.

    Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has agreed with Russian President Vladimir Putin to accelerate territorial talks based on a 1956 joint declaration which stipulates a transfer of the smallest two islands -- Shikotan and the Habomai islet group -- back to Japan once a peace pact is concluded.

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