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Japanese tour of disputed islands holds out hope of progress with Russia

Russian-held Southern Kurils could become focus of cross-border free-travel zone

| Japan
Visitors from Japan arrive at Russian-held Kunashiri Island on Oct. 30: it was the first ever by Japanese tourists to the disputed islands.   © Kyodo

The arrival of Japanese tourists on the Southern Kuril Islands, which are held by Russia but claimed by Japan, represents a significant development in the countries' long-standing territorial dispute. Yet if this pilot trip is to become more than a historical footnote, it must be quickly expanded into a regular series of visits -- and this will require concessions from Japan.

In general, little ever seems to change in Japan's dispute with Russia. For seven decades, Japanese governments have claimed that, in the final days of the second world war, the Soviet Union illegally occupied the four islands off the northeast coast of Hokkaido.

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