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Japan Says Disputed Islands 'Illegally Occupied by Russia'

FILE - In this undated photo, a turret from an old tank rests in front of a lighthouse near Yuzhno-Kurilsk on Kunashiri Island, one of the Kuril Chain, known as the Northern Territories in Japan. The islands were seized by Soviet troops in the last days o

Japan describes four islands whose ownership it disputes with Moscow as "illegally occupied by Russia" in the latest version of a diplomatic report released Friday, using stronger language to describe the territorial flap than other recent versions and underscoring the chilled relations between the two sides amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The description in the 2022 Diplomatic Bluebook, an annual report on Japan's foreign policy issued by the Foreign Ministry, uses that phrasing for the first time in nearly two decades. Japan, which is struggling to improve ties with Moscow to regain control of the Kurils, which Tokyo calls the Northern Territories, had previously described the dispute in a softer tone.

"The Northern Territories are a group of islands Japan has sovereignty over and an integral part of Japan's territory, but currently they are illegally occupied by Russia," the ministry said in the report.