Vladivostok Hosts Party; Japan’s First Naval Visit in 71 Years
VLADIVOSTOK, Russia (AP) _ Navy ships from countries that once considered themselves bitter enemies parked side by side in Vladivostok’s harbor today, including the first Japanese military ship to visit Russia since 1925.
Vessels from Japan, China, South Korea and the United States arrived in the Far Eastern port to celebrate the Russian navy’s 300th anniversary.
``I think this should have been done earlier. This is a way to normalize our relationship with Japan,″ Andrei Petrov, chief of Russia’s Pacific squadron headquarters, said as he watched sailors stream down the gangplank of the Japanese destroyer Kurama.
Petrov said the Pacific Fleet is hoping the Russian cruiser Varyag will soon visit Japan.
Relations between Russia and Japan have thawed since the fall of the Soviet Union, which never signed a peace treaty with Tokyo after World War II. The countries still dispute ownership of the Kuril Islands, a Pacific chain seized by the Soviets near the end of the war.
Tetsuya Hirose, Japan’s consul general in Vladivostok, acknowledged there are still tensions but said the visit symbolizes the start of better ties.
``Russia is a big neighbor for us, and we would like to expand our relationship on all levels,″ he said.
Japanese and Russian newspapers reported this week that Japanese intelligence officers were aboard the Kurama, but the ship’s public relations officer, Yu Hayashi, said the officers were serving as translators.
After weekend festivities _ including a soccer game, tug of war, and a naval parade on Sunday _ Japanese and Russian ships plan joint communications exercises at sea beginning Tuesday.
Archie Clemins, commander of the U.S. 7th Fleet, which patrols the Western Pacific, Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf, will fly into Vladivostok on Saturday.
Many of the foreign sailors were getting their first glimpse of a Russian city.
``Who would have thought 15 years ago that these four different nations would all be here in the same place?″ said James Wallace, a petty officer from the USS Blue Ridge. ``Especially in a former Soviet port.″