Russia: Scrapping of visa-free travel to 4 islands will not affect grave visits

The Russian foreign ministry says it has notified the Japanese government of its decision to scrap the bilateral agreements on visa-free visits by former Japanese residents of four Russian-held islands.

In a statement released on Wednesday, the ministry also said the decision will not affect a program allowing the former residents to visit their ancestors' graves on the islands.

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.

The Russian government on Monday unilaterally announced the termination of agreements with Japan that were aimed at promoting exchanges between former and current residents of the islands.

They include a 1991 agreement on visa-free exchanges and a 1999 agreement on free visits that allow former residents and their relatives to visit their hometowns on the islands.

The visits to graves, which the foreign ministry says will not be affected, were agreed by Japan and the then Soviet government in 1964. After a period of suspension, the program was resumed in 1986.

On Tuesday, Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio told reporters that Russia's termination of the agreements was extremely unjust and absolutely unacceptable. Kishida said Japan has lodged a strong protest with the Russian government.