Russia scraps visa-free visits for former Japanese residents of four islands

Russia says it has scrapped bilateral agreements with Japan that allow former Japanese residents of four Russian-held islands to travel there without visas.

Russia controls the islands. Japan claims them. The Japanese government maintains the islands are an inherent part of Japan's territory. It says the islands were illegally occupied after World War Two.

On Monday, the Russian government unilaterally announced the termination of the bilateral agreements. The Kremlin ordered the foreign ministry to notify the Japanese government.

It is believed the move was taken in retaliation for sanctions Japan implemented on Russia following its invasion of Ukraine.

In 1991, Japan and Russia agreed on what is known as four-island exchange program. It allowed visa-free visits to promote exchanges between former residents and current residents of the islands.

In 1999, an additional agreement called free visits was made allowing for former residents and their relatives to visit their hometowns on the islands.

About 30,000 Japanese and Russians have taken part in the exchanges.

In March, the Russian foreign ministry said Moscow would suspend the visa-free exchanges. The ministry also said it would suspend peace treaty talks with Japan in response to its sanctions.

The ministry added that all responsibility for the move rested with the Japanese government, which it claimed had taken an anti-Russia stance.

Japan has imposed sanctions against Russia in line with other Group of Seven members.