Russian Kuril missiles end Japanese island claims
Russia is planning to deploy additional missiles on two islands in the northern portion of the disputed Kuril chain off Japan’s northernmost island of Hokkaido, according to an internal Russian document.
Kyodo News reported that new land-to-ship missile systems called the Bastion, with a range of more than 360km, would be deployed on Paramushir and Matua in the chain, which includes four islands claimed by Japan which were seized by the Soviets at the end of the Second World War.
The plan points to the strategic importance Russia places on the Kuril Islands to defend the Sea of Okhotsk.
The move more or less ends Japan’s hopes of getting back the southern Kuril Islands.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe last week travelled to the far eastern Russian port of Vladivostok to meet President Vladimir Putin in pursuit of a treaty to return the southern islands.
Plans to deploy land-to-ship missiles on Paramushir in the northern Kurils and radar on Matua suggest the Russians have no plans to leave. Paramushir is not claimed by Tokyo but the Bastion missile’s more than 360km range puts them within reach of shipping in the Sea of Okhotsk, the waters north of Hokkaido.
In August, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev visited Iturup (pictured), one of the islands claimed by Japan, which the Japanese call Etorofu.
Medvedev brushed off Japanese criticism of his provocative visit. The former president said: “The more indignation, the more reasons to come here for Russian government representatives, and that’s what we will do, of course. It is our land, it is an entity of the Russian Federation. These islands are part of the Sakhalin region. Why should we be concerned about [Japanese sensitivities]?”
The Kurils were invaded by the Soviet Union in late August 1945 two weeks after Japan’s surrender after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Japanese have ever since condemned the invasion as treacherous and illegal.
The Japanese population was expelled and replaced by Russian settlers. The Kurils struggled economically despite playing an important strategic role during the Cold War. They also have rich offshore fishing grounds.
In 1956, Moscow agreed to hand back a few of the islands, including the small Shikotan and the Habomai islets, in exchange for a peace treaty. The offer was rejected by Tokyo in the hope that Japanese investment in Russia’s Pacific region could persuade the Kremlin to return more territory.
Russia’s growing economy has weakened Tokyo’s leverage.
Japan and Russia agreed in 2018 to embark on joint economic projects on the islands, including sea urchin and strawberry farming, to build bilateral ties.
It has been reported that Tokyo is now prepared to consider accepting the 1956 offer and abandoning hope of retrieving the larger Kunashir and Iturup.
But a sticking point is the demand that Japan must accept Russian sovereignty over the other seized islands.
Iturup. Picture credit: Wikimedia