Russia has deployed coastal defence missile systems near Pacific islands also claimed by Japan, a move intended to underline Moscow’s firm stance in the dispute.
The Bastion missile systems were moved to Matua, a deserted volcanic island in the middle of the Kuril island chain. Japan claims four of the southernmost islands.
Russia’s defence ministry posted a video on Thursday showing huge missile carriers moving ashore from amphibious landing vessels and driving along the coast of the volcanic 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 Bastion is capable of hitting sea targets at a range of up to 500km (270 nautical miles).
In recent years Russia has aimed to beef up its military presence on the Kuril Islands, which were seized by the Soviet Union in the final days of the second world war.
In 2016, it stationed the Bal and the Bastion coastal defence missile systems on two of the four southernmost Kuril Islands. In subsequent years, it sent top-of-the-line air defence missile systems there and set up an airbase on the island of Iturup where fighter jets were deployed.
Japan asserts territorial rights to the four southernmost islands of the Kuril chain and calls them Northern Territories. The dispute has kept the countries from signing a peace treaty formally ending their hostilities.
The oval-shaped, 11km-long island of Matua hosted a Japanese military base during the second world war. After the Soviet takeover of the Kuril Islands, Matua was home to a Soviet military base which was closed amid funding shortages following the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.
The Kremlin’s spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, said Russia has a sovereign right to deploy its military forces wherever it deems necessary on its territory. He added that Russia values relations with Japan and remains committed to efforts to negotiate a settlement.
“We maintain a political will to pursue a comprehensive dialogue with our Japanese partners in order to find ways of settlement,” Peskov told reporters.