Russia deploys missiles in Kurils ahead of peace talks

Moscow insists its action will not affect efforts to settle territorial dispute with Japan

MOSCOW • The deployment of Russian missile systems on the Kuril Islands should not influence efforts to settle the long-running territo- rial dispute between Moscow and Tokyo over the islands, the Kremlin said yesterday.

Russian media reported on Tuesday that the Bastion and Bal anti-ship missile systems were now in operation on the Kuril Islands, an archipelago north of the Japanese island of Hokkaido over which Russia and Japan have staked rival claims for 70 years.

Officials in Moscow and Tokyo say they are making a renewed push to resolve the dispute, and next month's visit to Japan by Russian President Vladimir Putin is now the focus of those efforts.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Russian defence ministry without doubt had grounds for deploying the missile systems, without giving any details.

"But at the same time, from our point of view, it should not in any way influence the centripetal trend which exists in our bilateral relations with Tokyo," Mr Peskov said during a conference call with reporters.

He said that trend existed "in terms of the careful preparations for the forthcoming visit of President Putin to Japan, and in terms of continuing contacts to develop our bilateral ties, especially in the economic sphere, and negotiations on the peace deal issue".

The Bastion is a mobile defence system armed with two anti-ship missiles with a range of up to 300km. It has also been deployed in Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014. The Bal anti-ship missile has a similar range.

The dispute over the islands, known as the Kurils in Russia and the Northern Territories in Japan, has strained relations between the two countries since World War II, when Soviet forces occupied four islands at the southern end of the chain.

Japan yesterday stressed the need to resolve the dispute.

Foreign Affairs Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters yesterday that the government was aware of movements around the Northern Territories, and would continue to monitor developments.

He said solving the territorial dispute was one of Japan's top priorities, and he hoped to make progress on the issue during Mr Putin's visit.

The dispute, however, remains acrimonious. Moscow and Tokyo have still not signed a formal peace treaty ending World War II hostilities.

Officials in Moscow and Tokyo say they are making a renewed push to resolve the dispute, and next month's visit to Japan by Russian President Vladimir Putin is now the focus of those efforts.

When Mr Putin visits next month, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is scheduled to host the Russian leader in his home town of Nagato in southern Japan. Mr Abe said earlier this year that he hoped the venue would create a relaxed atmosphere conducive to progress on the peace talks.

REUTERS, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 24, 2016, with the headline 'Russia deploys missiles in Kurils ahead of peace talks'. Print Edition | Subscribe