Russian defense chief tours isles’ defenses

VLADIVOSTOK, Russia (Kyodo) Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov visited Etorofu and Kunashiri islands Friday on a one-day military inspection trip to the Russian-held islands off Hokkaido, Russian defense officials and local media said.

Tokyo lodged an immediate complaint with Moscow over Serdyukov’s trip. Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara said Jiro Kodera, director general of the Foreign Ministry’s European Affairs Bureau, summoned Russian Ambassador to Japan Mikhail Bely and lodged “a strong protest.”

“This trip will throw cold water on the two countries’ agreement to try to develop bilateral relations by addressing the territorial issue and other measures,” Maehara, who is slated to travel to Moscow next week, said at a press conference.

Serdyukov’s tour was aimed at inspecting the machinegun-artillery division deployed there, the ITAR-Tass news agency said. He was scheduled to also visit Shikotan Island before returning to Khabarovsk later Friday.

Russia is planning to modernize military facilities on Etorofu and Kunashiri islands.

Earlier in the day, Serdyukov briefly met with officers in Khabarovsk, home to the regional military headquarters.

“During the planned trip the minister will inspect combat readiness and material provision of troops, as well as everyday living conditions of servicemen and their families,” ITAR-Tass quoted the headquarters’ press service as saying.

Serdyukov’s trip follows the contentious visit by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to Kunashiri in November.