TOKYO (AP) -- Japan on Wednesday criticized Russia's announcement suspending an agreement that allows Japanese to fish in waters near disputed islands, as relations between the countries deteriorate over the war in Ukraine.
The fishing deal has been in place since 1998, allowing Japanese fishing boats to operate around the Russian-held Kurils, which Japan also claims and calls the Northern Territories, in exchange for Japan's payment based on catch quota and other conditions negotiated annually.
Its suspension, apparently in response to Japan's sanctions against Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine, raises concern about the safety of Japanese fishing boats in the area. Prior to the agreement, Russian authorities had seized and shot at Japanese boats.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said it was "regrettable that Russia one-sidedly announced suspending the cooperation in this manner." He criticized Moscow for blaming Japan's failure to fund unrelated development projects on Sakhalin, the largest Russian island in the Pacific.
Matsuno said that Tokyo will pursue negotiations to ensure safe operations of Japanese boats under the pact.
"We will do our utmost to protect the safety of the Japanese fishing operation," he said.
The area is a rich fishing ground for pollack, Okhotsk mackerrel and octopus.
The territorial dispute has prevented the two countries from signing a peace treaty formally ending World War II. Russia has already scrapped peace treaty negotiations with Japan in response to the sanctions.
Matsuno criticized Moscow for linking Japan's failure to fund development projects on Sakhalin, which is not part of the territory claimed by Tokyo, to the fishing deal, "as if the Sakhalin projects are conditional to the fishing safety agreement."
Japan has provided development funds for Sakhalin for years as part of its effort to improve ties with Russia. Matsuno acknowledged that Tokyo had not provided its latest payment for Sakhalin projects, but it wasn't immediately clear if it was tied to the sanctions.
Japan quickly joined the United States and Europe in imposing sanctions against Russia and providing support for Ukraine. It fears the crisis may further embolden China to increase its assertiveness in the region.