Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday pledged to visit a chain of islands in its Far East, including those disputed with Japan, further complicating their strained ties amid the ongoing war in Ukraine.

At a town hall meeting in the Khabarovsk region broadcast on state television, Putin said he would make a trip to the Kuril Islands, though he did not give a specific timeline.

Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech at an international forum on China's signature Belt and Road global infrastructure initiative at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Oct. 18, 2023. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

Russia contends that the chain of islands includes four that are claimed by Japan. The four are called the Northern Territories in Japan and the Southern Kurils in Russia.

Tokyo maintains that the Soviet Union illegally seized the four -- Etorofu, Kunashiri, Shikotan and the Habomai islet group -- soon after its surrender in World War II on Aug. 15, 1945, while Moscow says they came under its control legitimately.

At the meeting, Putin said it is the "right direction" to develop tourism in the Kuril Islands when answering a question by a Kunashiri resident who works in the travel industry.

"I have heard that (the Kuril Islands) are interesting sites, but unfortunately, I have never been there, so I will definitely go," Putin added.

Photo taken in November 2019 from a Kyodo News airplane shows Russian-held, Japanese-claimed islands off Hokkaido, known as the Northern Territories in Japan and the Southern Kurils in Russia. At the bottom is Cape Nosappu in Hokkaido. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

The Japanese government has protested against repeated visits to disputed islands by senior Russian officials, including those by then Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in November 2010 and Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin in July 2021.

In the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty, Japan renounced all claims to the northern part of the Kuril Islands. The long-standing territorial dispute has hampered progress in peace treaty talks between Japan and Russia.

Bilateral negotiations on the territorial dispute and the peace treaty have been suspended since Tokyo imposed economic sanctions on Moscow following its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

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