Ahead of Vladimir Putin’s December trip to Japan, diplomatic sources told local media that Japan could block the US from being stationed on the islands off Hokkaido in the strategic Sea of Okhotsk, if this helps persuade Russia to give them back. The islands are inhabited, and in Russia are called the Southern Kurils – but for Japan they are Etorofu, Kunashiri, Shikotan, and the Habomai islet group.

These territories, which became Russian after Japan’s defeat in World War II under the San Francisco Peace Treaty of 1951, saw a rift between the two countries preventing them from signing the peace treaty to formally end the war. Tokyo insists the four islets are not part of the Kuril chain and should be returned under its control. FULL REPORT