Japan has lodged a formal protest with Russia to stop conducting military drills on an island which both nations have laid claim to. Japan is concerned that the scheduled exercises would eventually lead to a build-up of Russia’s forces in the Pacific.
Russia plans to conduct a series of military exercises involving 2,000 personnel on the island until February 11. This prompted Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono to issue a warning to Russia that the planned exercises could lead to more problems in the region.
The island in question is part of a small cluster of islands located north of Japan’s Hokkaido. When Japan surrendered to the allied forces at the end of World War II, Russian forces took control of the islands and renamed it “South Kuril Islands”.
Japan which called the islands “The Northern Territories” claim they never agreed to the takeover. Soviet leader Joseph Stalin deported many of the islands’ indigenous people.
Both Japan and Russia failed to sign a peace deal at the conclusion of World War II because they could not resolve ownership of the disputed islands.
Kono said Japan views Russia’s control of the islands to be illegal and that conducting military drills would constitute an opposition to the nation’s official position.
The countries’ respective leaders President Vladimir Putin of Russia and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe have reportedly discussed possible solutions to the issue although nothing has been disclosed publicly.
Meanwhile, Russian military activity on and around the islands have continued to increase over the years.
Prior to Russia’s decision to hold military exercises, the Kremlin had approved of a plan to set up an airfield on one of the disputed islands whereby armed forces could use a civilian strip.
Anti- ship missiles were already reportedly in place while a senior Russian lawmaker disclosed plans the country would eventually establish a naval base on the South Kuril islands.