Russia protests to Japan about joint exercises with NATO countries

(Reuters) - Russia protested to Japan on Friday about Tokyo's plans to hold joint military exercises on the island of Hokkaido and accused Prime Minister Fumio Kishida of placing his country "on a path to dangerous escalation".

Russia's Foreign Ministry, in a note on its website, said a protest had been issued to Japan's embassy in connection with the announcement that drills would be held with Germany and Spain later this month.

The note said Tokyo was told it was "categorically unacceptable" to engage in military activity off Russia's far eastern coast, particularly taking into account the participation of NATO members located far from the region.

"We view such activity as a potential threat to the security of the Russian Federation," the ministry statement said.

"It was stressed that the irresponsible policy of the administration of Prime Minister F. Kishida is placing Tokyo on a path of dangerous escalation in Northeast Asia and throughout the Asia-Pacific region."

Russia, the statement said, had warned of counter-measures to be taken to ensure the country's defence capability.

Japan has thrown its support behind Ukraine since Russia invaded its neighbour more than two years ago.

Tokyo and Moscow have failed to resolve a territorial dispute over four islands off Hokkaido described by Japan as the Northern Territories and by Moscow, which controls them, as the Kuril islands.

The dispute has prevented the two sides concluding a peace treaty since the end of World War Two, when the islands were seized by the Soviet Union.

Japan has periodically expressed unease about Russia strengthening its military infrastructure on the disputed islands.

(Reporting by Ron Popeski; editing by Philippa Fletcher)