Russia, Japan Tensions Set To Explode; Moscow To Deploy S-300 Missiles In The Disputed Kuril Islands

Another round of discord may erupt between Russia and Japan over the long-disputed Kuril islands (known in Japan as the Northern Territories) as Russia has decided to redeploy its S-300V4 air defence missile system to the archipelago.

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The move was announced by the Russian Eastern Military District. The redeployment marks the first time the missile system is deployed to the archipelago.

“The Eastern Military District’s anti-aircraft missile formation stationed in the Jewish Autonomous Region has kicked off drills to redeploy one of its units to large distances,” said the press office, reported Tass.

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It further said that the exercise is practising performing a combined march to one of the islands of the Kuril Ridge, using the railway and maritime transport, deploying the unit in the designated areas and fighting notional saboteurs.

“During the exercise, the S-300V4 teams will accomplish combat training assignments at unknown practice ranges in the District’s island zone.”

The Eastern Military District received the S-300V4 missile system Jewish Autonomous Region and have undergone training to operate the systems that would protect Russia’s military equipment and facilities against airstrikes.

The new Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga acknowledged the dispute in his first speech in the Parliament. He said that he plans to resolve the dispute with Russian President Vladimir Putin through comprehensive talks and is hoping to sign a peace treaty.

“We need to achieve closure in the talks on the Northern Territories, instead of postponing it for future generations,” Suga said. “With the aid of frank dialogue at the level of top officials, I will strive for comprehensive development of relations with Russia, including the signing of a peace agreement.”

Last month, the new Japanese leader told Putin of his intention to resolve the issue over a phone call. “I told [Putin] that I don’t want to pass the problem of the ownership of the Northern Territories to the next generation and I plan to solve it,” Suga told the press. He emphasised his intentions to “fully develop Japanese-Russian relations.”

Reasons For Dispute Over the Islands

After World War II (WWII), the Soviet Union claimed sovereignty over the chain of Islands. Out of the total 56 islands, four of them that are claimed by Japan and occupied by Russia are Etorofu island, Kunashiri island, Shikotan island and the Habomai island. The remaining are undisputed part of the Russian territory. 

While Moscow has repeatedly said that the sovereignty of the islands cannot be called in question as it is committed on paper after WWII when Japan surrendered in 1945, Tokyo says that the annexation of the islands was illegal and demands the return of the islands. 

Another treaty signed between Japan and Allied powers in 1951 stated that Japan would renounce “all right, title and claim to the Kuril Islands”, however, it doesn’t recognise Soviet Union’s sovereignty over it.

The dispute has prevented Russia and Japan to sign the WWII peace treaty and the ties between the two were restored in 1956 through the Japan-Soviet Joint Declaration. Russia offered two islands to Japan demanding that it renounces the claim on the other two islands but Tokyo rejected the offer as the two islands offered, constituted only 7% of the total land disputed.

Last year, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that Japan should first recognise Russia’s sovereignty over the islands and then only the peace treaty can be signed.

According to a Tass report, he further said that the Japan-US military alliance is another obstacle for establishing Japanese-Russian ties.”I will remind you that when the 1956 declaration was being coordinated, the USSR said back then that everything may be implemented, and this declaration may be fully implemented only in the context of discontinued US military presence on Japan’s territory,” Lavrov said.

He added that the US has explicitly said that it considers China and Russia as its “main threat” and thus all its military alliances with Japan, Australia and the Republic of Korea “ran counter to the assurances, which Japan gives us that the Japanese-US military and political alliance is not aimed against the Russian Federation.”

It is yet to see how Japan’s new leadership, Yoshihide Suga will take the territorial issue forward with Russia while maintaining the essential military support that requires the US.