Putin says Russia ready for talks with Japan over disputed islands

Russia's President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech at the "Oil and gas companies as an engine driving change in the world economy" session at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum 2014 (SPIEF 2014) in St. Petersburg May 24, 2014. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

ST PETERSBURG, Russia (Reuters) - President Vladimir Putin said on Saturday that Russia is ready for talks with Japan over disputed Pacific Islands but that Japan may not be ready for negotiations.

Japan imposed visa bans on 23 Russians last month, as it followed the United States and the European Union in announcing expanded sanctions against Russia over its actions in Ukraine.

"We are ready for talks," Putin told a group of foreign journalists at the sidelines of the St Petersburg International Economic Forum. "Is Japan ready? I'm not yet sure myself."

The two countries have been involved in a decades-old dispute over islands north of Hokkaido, known as Kurile in Russia and referred to as the Northern Territories in Japan.

Putin said that both sides are very much interested in resolving the dispute, but a solution can result only from a "hard joint work."

"Any solution should not hurt the interests of either side and any compromise should not make either of the sides feel defeated," Putin said.

(Reporting by Paul Ingrassia and Alexei Anishchuk; Writing by Lidia Kelly, editing by Jason Bush)