Russia intends to cement its control of Japanese-claimed islands off Hokkaido by deploying sophisticated weapons, including antiship cruise missiles and an air defense system, defense analysts said.

On Tuesday, Russia’s Interfax news agency quoted a senior Russian defense official as saying Russia will deploy Yakhont antiship cruise missiles and the Tor-M2 missile shield to the island chain, which includes the islands of Etorofu, Kunashiri, Shikotan and the Habomai islet group, all of which Japan wants returned.

Since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia has scaled down its military presence on the islands, but the latest moves apparently indicate a change in its defense posture for the area and may exacerbate the territorial dispute between Tokyo and Moscow, the analysts said.

During the Cold War, the Soviet Union deployed around 10,000 troops to the islands, but that has since dropped to around 3,500.

Russia also deploys battle tanks but no fighter jets, and its air and maritime defense capabilities are regarded as relatively weak, they said.

The Yakhont antiship cruise missile, which flies above the sea surface at supersonic speed and is difficult to detect by radar, is capable of carrying a 200-kg warhead over a range of about 300 km.

The U.S. and Israel have strongly opposed Russia’s plan to supply the missile, called a “ship-buster” due to its destructive capabilities, to Syria.

Meanwhile, the Tor-M2 surface-to-air missile system is mounted on a self-propelled launcher and is capable of firing missiles at four targets simultaneously.

Russia also plans to deploy Mi-28 attack helicopters, which are capable of operating at night and are armed with antitank and air-to-air missiles, on Etorofu Island.

Russian Army Gen. Nikolay Makarov, chief of the General Staff of the Russian armed forces, has said that at least one of the four Mistral-class amphibious assault ships currently under joint construction with France will be deployed in the Russian Far East.

Russia’s Pacific fleet, headquartered in Vladivostok, would significantly boost its defense capabilities around the disputed islands if the assault ship is deployed.

A popular Russian radio presenter, Sergey Stillavin, recently wrote on his weblog that he heard that Japan’s ambassador to Russia called in representatives of Japanese corporations in Moscow and urged them to prepare to return to Japan in the near future.

Stillavin also made the groundless claim that Japan is considering going to war against Russia to get back the disputed islands, a comment that indicates the extent to which bilateral relations have deteriorated.

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