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TOKYO, March 20. /TASS/. The Japanese government said on Friday that a former prime minister’s recent visit to Russia’s Black Sea peninsula of Crimea would not affect future relations between Russia and Japan.
Responding to a request by a member of Japan's leading opposition Democratic Party, the government issued a letter saying: "[The visit] is deeply regrettable but we do not think it will have any impact on the future of Japan-Russia and Japan-US diplomacy."
Former premier Yukio Hatoyama made a three-day trip to Crimea last week despite opposition from Tokyo, saying he wanted personally to make sure that Crimea residents had sought to reunify with Russia.
The Japanese government and the Foreign Ministry sharply criticised Hatoyama for his visit to the peninsula, saying his action was at odds with Japan's stance on the Ukraine situation. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga called the premier’s behaviour "grossly imprudent and extremely regrettable for someone who experienced the office of prime minister".
Speaking after his visit, Hatoyama said "there’s no problem in Crimea’s incorporation into Russia."
"Both ethnic Ukrainians living on the peninsula and Crimean Tatars benefited from the move. Now the society is being created in Crimea where the atmosphere of friendship reigns," Japan's Kyodo news agency quoted him as saying.
Crimea, where most residents are ethnic Russians, refused to recognise the legitimacy of authorities brought to power amid riots during a coup in Ukraine in February 2014.
In mid-March last year, Crimea re-joined Russia following a referendum. More than 82% of the electorate took part in the vote. Over 96% backed splitting from Ukraine and spoke in favour of reuniting with Russia.
Results of the referendum were celebrated by many Crimeans but the vote was widely criticised by Western leaders and at the United Nations.
In the Soviet Union, Crimea was part of Russia until 1954, when Communist Party head Nikita Khrushchev transferred the Crimean region, along with Sevastopol, to Ukraine's jurisdiction as a gift.