Russian Military Buildup on Disputed Isles Clouds Resolution of Row with TokyoPosted: December 29, 2016
Junko Horiuchi reports: Even though Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed their recent agreement on joint economic activities on four disputed islands off Hokkaido is a step toward resolving the territorial row, the islands’ strategic importance for Russia is likely to continue complicating the decades-old issue.
Even if the agreed economic cooperation chiefly in the Russian Far East makes headway, the strategic importance of the Russian-held islands, claimed by Japan, bodes ill for Tokyo in its efforts to regain them, especially given the advance of China in the Arctic region and Russia’s need to maintain its nuclear deterrence, according to some analysts.
Japan claims that Etorofu, Kunashiri, Shikotan and the Habomai islet group are an integral part of its territory and were illegally seized by the Soviet Union after Japan’s surrender in World War II in August 1945. Russia maintains the Soviet Union took the islands legitimately as the spoils of war.
Russia has been modernizing its military on the islands, which delineate the southern edge of the Sea of Okhotsk where Russian nuclear submarines are deployed.
“When the military characteristics of the Northern Territories (disputed islands) are considered, (their importance) is not about the defense of the islands themselves but more about protecting and controlling access to the Sea of Okhotsk that lies inside of the islands,” said Yu Koizumi, a research fellow at the Institute for Future Engineering.
“In that respect, Russia cannot easily concede as the importance of the Northern Territories is closely related to its nuclear deterrence,” he said…(read more)
Source: The Japan Times