VLADIVOSTOK, RUSSIA - A new airport started operating on Etorofu Island — one of four Russian-held, Japanese-claimed islands off Hokkaido — as a special plane carrying Russian officials arrived Wednesday, Russian residents said.
A ceremony to mark the opening of the airport in the suburbs of Kurilsk is expected to be held this month with key officials in attendance, the residents said — a move that could trigger objections from the Japanese government, which may view it as Russia tightening its control over the island.
With a 2,300-meter runway, medium-size jets can now land and take off on the island, which has a population of around 7,000 people.
Construction began in 2007 to replace the existing airport, which is near the Pacific coast and prone to dense fog. The new airport is located closer to the Sea of Okhotsk coast.
The Russian government has been working on projects in recent years to beef up infrastructure on Etorofu and Kunashiri, another of the four islands that Soviet forces seized near the end of World War II, and which Japan wants returned.