The Russian president has re-awakened a 65 year old diplomatic row with Japan by visiting an island that is claimed by both Moscow and Tokyo.
Dmitry Medvedev became the first Russian leader to set foot on the disputed island chain, less than two weeks before a major Asia-Pacific leaders’ summit hosted by Japan.
It is a new headache for the Japanese prime minister, whose popularity has plummeted since taking office in June.
Naoto Kan said: “We have been consistent in our stance that these four northern islands are Japanese territory. I think that it is very regrettable that the president decided to visit that area.”
The islands were occupied by Soviet troops at the end of the Second World War. In Russia they are known as the Southern Kuriles. In Japan they are called the Northern Territories.
The dispute has prevented the signing of a formal peace treaty between the two countries.
Stretching from Hokkaido in Japan to Russia’s Kamchatka peninsula, the islands occupy rich fishing grounds and are close to abundant supplies of oil and gas.