Russia announces 'unprecedented' military upgrade on disputed Kuril islands

Russian servicemen march at Red Square during the Victory Day military parade in Moscow on May 9, 2016.
Russian servicemen march at Red Square during the Victory Day military parade in Moscow on May 9, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

MOSCOW (AFP) - Russia's defence ministry said Friday (May 27) it was taking unprecedented measures to upgrade its military facilities on the far-eastern Kuril islands claimed by Japan.

Colonel-General Sergei Surovikin, commander of the eastern military district, announced the launch of "unprecedented measures to develop military infrastructure in the area", the ministry said in a statement.

He said Russia was taking the steps to "exclude the emergence of even the smallest risks".

Russia has military bases on the Kuril Pacific archipelago, while Japan claims four of the islands in a dispute that has simmered since World War II, preventing the countries ever signing a peace treaty.

Soviet troops seized four of the Kuril islands at the end of World War II just after Japan surrendered.

Surovikin listed the measures being taken as "a planned rearmament of the formations and units and boosting the level of social protection for all categories of serving soldiers and their family members".

Russia earlier this month sent six ships from its Pacific Ocean naval fleet on an expedition to an uninhabited island in the archipelago called Matua.

Surovikin said Friday the forces were there to "study the possibility of future basing of Pacific Fleet forces there".

The bullish comments come as Japan hosts a summit of the Group of Seven, which has snubbed Russia over its actions in Ukraine.

Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said in March that Russia would deploy a range of coastal missile systems on the Kurils as part of increased military spending in the region.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited Russian President Vladimir Putin this month at his holiday residence in Sochi with peace talks high on the agenda.

The Japanese foreign ministry afterwards said Abe had come closer to a breakthrough on the dispute, while Russia said simply that negotiations between diplomats would continue.

Putin is expected to visit Japan some time this year, a Kremlin adviser told journalists this month.