Russia angers Japan with internet link to disputed Kuril islands

Russia angers Japan with internet link to disputed Kuril islands

Russia says it has laid fibre-optic cables to its Pacific Kuril islands that are claimed by Japan, delivering high-speed internet, angering Tokyo which believed it was making progress towards reclaiming at least some of its former territory.

An 815km fibre-optic cable had connected the large Russian island of Sakhalin and several settlements on Iturup, Kunashir and Shikotan, according to the state-run telecoms operator Rostelecom.

Japan opposed the laying of the cables and anything else that suggests Moscow intends to reinforce its grip on the Kurils, which the Japanese call the Northern Territories.

The volcanic islands have prevented Japan and Russia signing a formal peace treaty to end the Second World War.

The two countries agreed at the end of 2018 to speed up talks to resolve the dispute, with a general election looming in Japan.

“The implementation of this project is a milestone event for the Southern Kurils,” said Russian aide Sergei Ivanov. “The introduction of high-speed internet to the remote islands that are ours, that are Russian, significantly improves the quality of life for the local population,” he said, according to Rostelecom.

The cost of the project was around US$50 million, the telecoms firm said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe hold regular talks to resolve the dispute, with the Japanese parliamentary opposition seizing on any perceived weakness or concessions by Abe.

In December Moscow unveiled four military barracks for troops and armoured vehicles on the Kurils to develop “military and social infrastructure” on the islands.

More bases are expected, suggesting Russia has limited intention in relinquishing the islands that Japan said were occupied after its surrender in 1945.

Russian gas export giant Gazprom says it plans to build a liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal on Sakhalin to fuel the island chain.

One reason that Moscow says it is reluctant to relinquish the Kurils is the threat of US military occupation on the chain, overlooking Russia’s sparsely populated Pacific coast.

The Kremlin’s official mouthpiece Tass said the US military had not rejected the possibility of deploying its missile shield on the Kurils, should the islands be transferred to Japan.

According to Tass, Ivanov said the US was non-committal about ruling out a base on Shikotan (pictured). The aide said: “You have heard an answer of the American general. ‘No, we do not plan so far.’ I want to highlight that phrase ‘so far’.”

He claimed another “US general” said the island of Iturup was ideally suited for a missile shield system against North Korean missiles.

“Apparently, they treat us like fools. What North Korean missiles? This would target Russian missiles. The missile shield would be aimed against the Russian Federation,”
he said, according to Tass.


Shikotan. Picture credit: Wikimedia

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