MOSCOW, July 23 (UPI) -- Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev announced plans to visit the Kuril Islands, a handful of islands disputed with Japan since the 1940s.
Russia calls the four islands Southern Kurils. They are located in the Sea of Okhotsk. All were given to Soviet forces at the end of World War II but are still claimed by Japan. Russia had repeatedly offered to return the Asian country two minor islands, but Japan has claimed the entire territory.
"Those who have been [to the Kuril Islands] should go there. In any case, I plan to go and see how things stand there. And I invite others to there as well," Medvedev told a government session Thursday, as reported by Russia Beyond the Headlines.
In November 2010, then-President Medvedev visited the Kuril Islands for the first time -- the first Russian leader to do so. While there, Medvedev visited constructed sites and talked to the residents, while also inspecting a geothermal plant. In July 2012, Medvedev also flew to the southern island of Kunashir.
Russia and Japan have no formal peace treaty signed. In February 1946, the Kuril Islands were declared as territories of the Soviet Union.
"We can consider the issue of creating advanced development territories in the Kurils, of course, depending on what projects surface. the purpose of the new program is to improve the living conditions on the islands, as much as possible, in order to attract people to the region, to ensure those who already live there with jobs, and provide all the necessary social infrastructure such as kindergartens, schools, medical facilities," Medvedev said, as reported by TASS.
The Japanese government indicated this week that it expects Russia to negotiate the Kuril dispute on the basis of the 2001 Irkutsk Declaration signed by Russian President Putin and then-Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, reported by Cihan News Agency.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's administration said that he wants to make sure both sides "are on the same page" before he invites Putin to his country this year. Abe confirmed that such an invitation was in the works, but Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov indicated that no exact date has been set.