Russian bomber planes circled around the Japanese archipelago for 14 consecutive hours last Thursday, refueling mid-air along the way. The two countries have been in a dispute over Russian-held islands on the fringe of the Okhotsk Sea, called the southern Kurils in Russia but also claimed by Japan, where they are to the north of Hokkaido. The row over the Kurils, which Soviet troops seized in the closing days of World War II in 1945, has prevented the two countries from signing a treaty to formally end the conflict. 

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