( CNN) They're the islands where World War II never objective and now they're the focal point of a rare session between the leaders of Japan and Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin builds his first visit to Japan in 11 years on Thursday with Tokyo hopeful of progress in get Russia to return islands in the Kuril chain that the then-Soviet Union confiscated three days after Japan's surrender at the end of World War II.

It's been a sore spot in Japan-Russia relations for the past 71 years and is something that both Moscow and Tokyo are looking to leverage to enhance their security and economic interests in the Pacific.

Putin has been looking to shore up ties in Asia as part of what analysts have called Russia's “turn to the east” as US and European sanctions following Russia's annexation of Crimea took a toll.