Japan wary as Russian military vessels step up activities

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe listens during a joint news conference in Tokyo, Japan, on Dec 16, 2016.
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe listens during a joint news conference in Tokyo, Japan, on Dec 16, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO • Russian military vessels have been making more trips to the seas around Japan, with the number of such expeditions hitting a record high last year.

A senior officer of Japan's Maritime Self-Defence Force said the Russian military used to be "short of fuel and ammunition" following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, but the military has made a V-shaped recovery on the back of economic growth.

The unnamed officer expressed a sense of caution over the increase and said the purpose of the sailings is assumed to be for drills and surveillance activities.

In 2006, there were four confirmed cases of Russian military vessels sailing near Japan. The number increased to double digits in 2009, and then rose further to 19 in 2014 and 25 in 2015. It hit a record of 27 last year.

Last year, 18 of such voyages were in the seas around Hokkaido, and nine were spotted near the Kyushu and Okinawa regions.

The number of Russian military vessels involved in each expedition has also seen an upward trend.

On Sept 9, 2011, 24 vessels passed through the Soya Strait, one of the highest numbers of vessels to do so since the end of the Cold War.

On July 1, 2012, 26 Russian military vessels, including a cruiser, passed through the Soya Strait and entered the Sea of Okhotsk.

While Chinese military vessels too have stepped up their presence in disputed waters in recent years, a senior official of Japan's Defence Ministry warned that the country has to closely monitor Russia's moves.

"Though Russia's military power has been reduced from the peak time, the country deploys large-scale military forces, including nuclear weapons, in the Far East. We assume that the Russian military is trying to improve its capabilities through drills, and we need to closely monitor its moves."

THE JAPAN NEWS/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 12, 2017, with the headline 'Japan wary as Russian military vessels step up activities'. Print Edition | Subscribe