Japan protests Russian military drill on Etorofu

VLADIVOSTOK, Russia (Kyodo) Russia conducted a military drill last weekend on Etorofu, one of four Russian-held islands off Hokkaido claimed by Japan, despite a request by Tokyo not to do so.

A press officer in the military’s Far East district said Saturday-Sunday drill was “the largest-scale exercise held on the disputed islands since the collapse of the Soviet Union” in 1991.

It immediately drew criticism from Japan, with Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada expressing “deep regret” over the military exercise.

Okada told reporters in Yokkaichi, Mie Prefecture, that Japan cannot accept the use of a training camp on Etorofu Island by the Russian military and has lodged a protest with Moscow through diplomatic channels.

“We have a different political standpoint (over the island) but such an incident has never occurred before as far as we know. In that sense, it is regrettable,” Okada said. “I wonder why they conducted the drill at this time.”

According to an announcement dated Sunday by the Russian Defense Ministry, the drill on Etorofu Island was part of the Vostok 2010 strategic exercises in the Russian Far East and Siberia, which began June 29 and will continue through Thursday.

The drill on Etorofu involved about 1,500 soldiers and 200 military and special-purpose vehicles, it said.

Okada warned Russia against holding a drill on the disputed island last Friday, but a source at the Russian Foreign Ministry brushed aside the warning, telling ITAR-Tass news agency the same day that Russia “has the right to choose the place of exercises.”

About 10,000 service members are taking part in the drill, which also involves all the Russian fleets — Pacific, North, Black Sea and Baltic — as well as air force units, according to the news agency.

ITAR-Tass quoted Russian Armed Forces Gen. Nikolai Makarov, who is supervising the exercises, as saying the drill is not targeted at any real country but aimed at ensuring “defense of national interests from a presumed enemy on the Far Eastern borders.”

The row over the islands of Kunashiri, Etorofu, Shikotan and the Habomai islets has prevented the signing of a postwar peace treaty.