Russia’s military has announced details and released video of major war drills in the Sea of Japan by its Pacific Fleet, which included at least a dozen warships. Japanese media has said the drills took place in part inside Japan’s exclusive economic zone.
The live fire drills are being described as a military “show of strength” in the vicinity of the disputed Kuril Islands. Moscow has exercised control over the Kuril archipelago going back to Soviet rule at the end of World War II – which Tokyo has never recognized. Japan refers to the islands as the Northern Territories and claims historic ownership.
Japan’s new prime minister Fumio Kishida, apparently in direct response to the Monday drills by Russia told his parliament “The sovereignty of our country extends to the Northern Territories” – in reference to the islands. “We must solve this issue and not leave it to future generations. The government intends to sign a peace treaty with Russia, resolving the issue of these islands’ sovereignty,” Kishida was quoted in Russia’s TASS as saying.
The Kremlin was quick to reject and protest the remarks while simultaneously promoting official video of the latest Sea of Japan war games which included ten missile launches from the Russian warships:
“We do not agree with such a statement,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call later on Tuesday.
Known as the Kurils in Russia, Peskov said the archipelago is “Russian territory”.
“Russia has repeatedly reaffirmed its political will on different levels to continue dialogue with Japan to find solutions to the sensitive issues that remain on the agenda,” he said.
Russia had announced the drills ahead of time, and though hugely provocative, it’s not uncommon for such drills by a foreign power to breach a country’s exclusive economic zone, – defined broadly as stretching up to 200 nautical miles from a nation’s shores – particularly in this crowded maritime region.
According to further details of the drills as summarized in the US military publication Stars & Stripes:
The exercise, held by Russia’s Pacific Fleet, featured the guided-missile cruiser Varyag and 11 other warships and support vessels, according to Russian state-sponsored news agency TASS. Ten missiles were launched and intercepted by the Varyag, which employed three surface-to-air missile systems.
The fleet released video of the exercise, which showed numerous missiles being launched from a Russian vessel. Additional weapons systems, including the AK-630 rotary cannon and heavier artillery, are shown firing in the footage.
The ongoing historic dispute is focused on the four southernmost of the Kuril islands. The status of ownership of the islands, which Russia de facto currently controls and has even recently stationed missiles and small bases on, is still unresolved after 75 years following the Russo-Japanese war and as a treaty regarding their status is still being negotiated.