The Kuril Islands conflict, which dates back to the first Russian-Japanese agreement to address the status of Sakhalin and the Kuril Islands, as well as the Shimoda Treaty of 1855, which first established official relations between Russia and Japan, came back to the agenda during Suga’s active foreign policy period. Although analysts argue that the new president Suga should focus more on domestic politics than foreign policy. The recent visits of the Japanese prime minister to Vietnam and Indonesia, the arms sale agreement to the Philippines, and the advances to strengthen the Japanese defense would have set off alarms in the country’s northern neighbor.
Russia has been very sensitive about the Kuril Islands for a long time. For Instance, On July 2, Russia’s Foreign Ministry handed a note to a Japanese Embassy diplomat protesting against the fact that Japan in its coverage of the G20 Summit in Osaka used material in which the southern Kuril Islands were marked as Japanese territory. Japan’s current prime minister Yoshihide Suga sends response to Russia on 22 February 2017 following Russia’s Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu’s speech to the Russian parliament about the deployment of an army division on the disputed Kuril Islands in 2017. S Yoshihide Suga said during a press conference on February 23 that “reinforcing the Russian military’s build-up on the Northern Territories is regrettable and would conflict with the position of our country.”
However, despite the uncertainties, Russia is strengthening its position on the disputed islands day by day. Many issues are constantly being brought forward by Russia, including deploying defense systems on the island, sending tens of thousands of troops and setting up a permanent naval base on one of the islands for the Pacific Fleet. According to the latest claims made by Russia based media outlets and analysts, Russia has plans to deployed S-400 Triumf surface-to-air missiles, Su-27 jet fighters, an improved Kilo-class submarine, ground-based anti-ship missiles, and Ka-52 attack helicopters on disputed Kuril Islands, which currently garrisoned by the 18th Machine Gun Artillery Division.
It can be said that one of the reasons why Russia has been trying to increase its influence on the disputed islands is the influence of Japan’s recent steps in the field of defense. A retired Russian colonel Viktor Litovkin recently, stated that Russia could destroy Japan with nuclear weapons if it Japan landed on the Kuril Islands. According to the news on the ”Argumenti” website, Colonel Litovkin predicts that if Japanese land in the Kuril Islands, the Russian Federation may destroy the East Asian state with nuclear weapons. Litovkin pointed out that Tokyo was the first foreign operator of the American Bell Boeing V-22В Osprey transport and landing converters the capabilities of the Japanese would be enough to land on the Kuriles, taking into account the purchase of these combat vehicles but In this case, such an operation would be of no use. The former colonel stated that in the event of a landing, Russia would have the right to retaliate. Furthermore, Moscow can use nuclear weapons, if this scenario is implemented, Japan will die.
In a case active foreign policy pursued by Japan is applied to the disputed Kuril Islands, the conflict will have gained a deep dimension. Although Japan has a soft perspective, for now, it cannot be expected to give up the Kuril Islands, which are extremely rich in terms of both strategic and natural resources. At the same time, a possible transfer of the disputed islands to Japan will severely impact Russia’s power in the far east.
Image Credit: Sea ice surrounds Shikotan island, which according to NASA lies along the extreme southern edge of winter sea ice in the Northern Hemisphere (NASA/Flickr)