Russia signaled that it would continue its build-up of defensive fortifications on its chain of islands, which are also under dispute by Japan.
On December 17th, Russia announced that it had built new barracks for its troops. Russia’s Ministry of Defence said it planned to shift troops in the week after December 23rd into four barracks on two of the four disputed islands, known as the Southern Kurils in Russia and the Northern Territories in Japan.
Japan’s defense ministry says 3,500 Russian troops are deployed on the two larger islands as part of a military buildup.
This comes amid reports that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is to visit Russia on January 21st.
Also on December 17th, in an interview with a radio program, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that Japan has to accept the outcome of World War II.
Emphasizing that accepting the legality of Russia’s effective control of the four disputed islands off Hokkaido as a consequence of the war would be an indispensable first step for Japan to take.
Lavrov also commented on an apology made by Foreign Minister Taro Kono for not answering any questions about the territorial row with Russia at a news conference last week, bluntly repeating only one phrase: “Next question, please.”
According to Lavrov, Kono, in a way, said that Japan’s position regarding the peace treaty and the disputed islands hasn’t changed, but saying so would provoke Russia.
Later on, Lavrov expressed his concern over the deployment of US missile defensive systems in Japan.
Furthermore, Russia has expressed concerns that the Aegis Ashore US missile system could be placed on the disputed islands, if it relinquishes control over them.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe have held numerous face-to-face meetings in an attempt to resolve the dispute, citing that progress is being made each. However, no end of the row seems to be near.
Russia has also organized military exercises on the disputed islands. In August 2014, Russia began military exercises, according to Colonel Alexander Gordeyev, a spokesman for Russia’s Eastern Military District.
“Exercises began involving military units in the region, which have been deployed to the Kuril Islands,” he said.
Further saying that more than 1,000 troops, five Mi-8AMTSh attack helicopters and 100 other pieces of military hardware would be involved in the maneuvers.
“If they are conducting a military exercise on the Northern Territories, we can by no means accept that in light of Japan’s stance on the islands. We’ve already informed the Russian side of that stance and asked for clarification,” an unnamed Japanese Foreign Ministry official said.
However, the biggest military drills since the Cold War-era, the Vostok 2018, included no exercises on the disputed islands.
On October 8th, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said that Russia refrained from conducting them on the Kurils at the urging of Japan.
“We didn’t conduct exercises on the Kuril Islands (that include the Northern Territories) because of Japan’s proposal,” Shoigu told Katsutoshi Kawano, chief of the Joint Staff of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces (SDF), who was on a visit to Moscow.
Kawano reacted positively to Shoigu’s explanation saying, “I’d like to appreciate the fact that they (Russian forces) excluded the Northern Territories from the areas for the drill.”
It is yet unclear if whether a peace treaty would be signed soon. It appears that both sides are willing, but there are conditions that need to be met, and both sides also seem unwilling to meet them. The US adding fuel to the fire, also doesn’t help.