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Russia deploys combat-alert missile systems near Kuril islands claimed by Japan

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
A photo released by the Russian defense ministry shows a Bastion missile launcher arriving on Matua, part of the Kuril island chain, on December 2, 2021. (Via AP)

The Russian military has for the first time deployed coastal missile defense systems near its eastern territory of Kuril Islands, which is also claimed by Japan, a move that is intended to underline Moscow’s assertive stance in the decades-long dispute.

Russia’s defense ministry posted a video on Thursday that showed the Bastion missile systems — capable of hitting sea targets at a range of up to 500 kilometers — being moved to Matua, a deserted volcanic island in the middle of the disputed Kuril island chain in the north of Japan.

The video footage displayed huge missile carriers moving ashore from amphibious landing vessels and driving along the coast of the oval-shaped island to take firing positions as part of drills.

The ministry said the deployment involved setting up living quarters for personnel, hangars for the vehicles and other infrastructure.

The press office of Russia's Pacific Fleet confirmed the deployment in a statement and said the crews of the Bastion coastal defense missile systems had assumed combat alert on the Matua Island.

"The teams of the Pacific Fleet’s Bastion coastal defense missile systems have deployed for the first time and assumed combat alert on the Island of Matua. The Pacific Fleet’s missile personnel will be on round-the-clock watch on this remote island in the central part of the Kuril Ridge to control the adjacent waters and straits," the statement said.

The press office said the Fleet’s logistics forces set up technical posts and deployed military hardware on the island, stressing that, "The personnel have commenced combat alert and planned combat training measures.”

The Bastion mobile coastal missile system is equipped with the Onyx supersonic self-propelled anti-ship missile and has been designed to destroy various types of surface ships operating as part of amphibious assault formations, convoys and carrier strike groups.

The Kuril Islands, located in the Sea of Okhotsk, lie fewer than 10 kilometers from Japan’s Hokkaido, consisting of Kunashir, Iturup, Shikotan, and Habomai.

Following Japan’s surrender in World War II, the strategic islands were taken over by the Soviet army in the final days of the war. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the four islands were incorporated into the Russian Federation but Japan continues to lay claim to the islands.

According to a joint declaration signed in 1956, the Soviet Union agreed to return two of the islands provided that a bilateral peace treaty is signed. Japan refused to sign such an agreement, insisting on the return of all four islands.

Kremlin says ready for dialog with Tokyo

On Thursday, Kremlin’s spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Russia has a sovereign right to deploy its military forces wherever it deems necessary on its territory.

"Russia feels free to deploy in its territory those facilities it deems necessary and there where it finds appropriate. This is our sovereign right. It is the right of any country, and it can hardly be called into question," Peskov stressed.

Asked if decisions to deploy military facilities required the president’s consent, Peskov said, "Naturally, all planning for the deployment of facilities is done by the Defense Ministry, but, of course, all of them are reported to and agreed with the Supreme Commander-in-Chief."

The Kremlin’s spokesperson also underlined that Russia values relations with Japan and remains committed to efforts to negotiate a settlement and peace treaty.

"Japan is our partner and we value our bilateral relations,” Peskov told reporters. “We maintain a political will to pursue a comprehensive dialogue with our Japanese partners in order to find ways of settlement.”

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