Russia has just seriously escalated the ongoing historic dispute with Japan over the Kuril islands, which Tokyo calls the Northern Territories. The status of ownership of the islands, which Russia de facto currently controls and has small bases on, is still unresolved since the end of WWII as a treaty regarding their status is still being negotiated.
On Thursday the Russian Defense Ministry announced the military stationed has stationed its Bastion coastal missile defense system on a remote part of the island chain near Japan, identified as the island of Matua. These are considered “shore-based anti-ship missile systems” – seen as also potentially threatening to Japan’s Western allies, given for example US warships have recently traversed nearby waters.
This marks the third Bastian defense system deployed to the islands, amid a major push to beef up Russia’s military infrastructure there.
The Bastion has a reported range of up to 450 kilometers, and while deemed “defensive” in nature, there’s little doubt Tokyo will take it as an unnecessary and threatening posture regarding the islands’ ownership.
Russia has defended the missile deployments so near Japan, with Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov saying in fresh statements, “Russia is free to place on its territory those objects that it considers (necessary), and in those areas of our country in which it considers appropriate. This is our sovereign right, this is the right of any state, it is unlikely that it can be challenged by anyone.” Peskov added: “And we retain the political will to continue a comprehensive dialogue with our Japanese partners in order to find ways to resolve this fundamental problem.”
Russia (at that time as the Soviet Union) has exercise de facto control over the Kurils since it seized them in the final days of World War II. The United States recognizes Japan’s sovereignty over the islands, however.
Russia’s near-future plans for continuing to build-up defense on the islands were described in The Moscow Times as follows:
The Pacific Fleet has erected a special “autonomous military town” on the uninhabited volcanic island to provide operational maintenance for the Bastion, which has a range of up to 450 kilometers.
According to Interfax, the Russian military has previously announced plans to build an airfield for light military transport aircraft and a base point for Russian Navy ships on Matua.
Japan’s Foreign Ministry has in the recent past frequently protested Russia’s military build-up just to its north stressing in prior statements: “We are constantly gathering information about the Russian military’s actions in the Northern Territories.” This has served to stall any final negotiated settlement, with no final resolution in sight.