Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has approved the deployment of some fighter planes on a disputed island near Japan, part of Moscow’s ongoing efforts to militarize the region.
The deployment of an as-yet-unknown number of fighter planes is likely to raise tensions that have already spiked due to Japan’s deployment of U.S.-supplied anti-air, anti-missile batteries.
In a recently-published decree, Medvedev permitted the Russian Defence Ministry to use a civilian airport on the island of Iturup, as it is known by Russia, or Etorofu, as it is called in Japan, for warplanes.
The island is one in a group of four that the former Soviet Union seized from Japan in the late stages of World War II. They are located off the north-east coast of Hokkaido, Japan’s biggest prefecture.
The islands are known as the Kuriles in Russia and the Northern Territories in Japan. The tension between the two countries over the islands has remained so high since the end of the war in 1945 that the two countries never signed a formal peace agreement.
The decree comes just days before deputy foreign affairs officials from both countries were to meet to discuss ways to cooperate regarding the islands. [source]
(Analyst comment: Moscow believes Japan is allowing itself to be militarized by the United States, as the U.S. has been steadily adding ground and air capabilities to its bases in the country and in the region. That includes the addition of Patriot air defense-anti-missile batteries, though Japan is operating those with an eye mostly toward interdicting North Korean missiles. But the Kremlin believes the U.S. is beefing up its military presence in and around Japan not for North Korea, but for Russia. That may be true, but if so it would likely only be as a means of countering Russia’s moves to assist its ally, Japan. And certainly the Trump administration has its eyes on North Korea, so this could all just be Russian paranoia. Still, putting warplanes on an island that the Japanese don’t think belongs to you isn’t any way to entice diplomatic cooperation. — JD)