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Moscow says missile deployment on disputed isles should not hurt Russia-Japan relations

Reuters, Staff Report

The deployment of Russian missile systems on the Kuril Islands should not influence efforts to settle a long-running territorial dispute between Moscow and Tokyo over the islands, the Kremlin said.

Russian media reported on Tuesday that the Bastion and Bal anti-ship missile systems were now in operation on two of the islands off Hokkaido, which are part of a group that have been subject to rival claims by Russia and Japan for 70 years.

Officials in Moscow and Tokyo say they are making a renewed push to resolve the dispute, and a planned visit to Japan in December by Russian President Vladimir Putin is now the focus for those efforts.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Wednesday the Russian defense ministry without doubt had grounds for deploying the missile systems, without giving any details.

“But at the same time from our point of view it should not in any way influence the centripetal trend which exists in our bilateral relations with Tokyo,” Peskov said on a conference call with reporters.

He said that trend existed “in terms of the careful preparations for the forthcoming visit of President Putin to Japan, and in terms of continuing contacts to develop our bilateral ties, especially in the economic sphere, and negotiations on the peace deal issue.”

The Bastion is a mobile defense system armed with two anti-ship missiles with a range of up to 300 km. It has also been deployed in Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014. The Bal anti-ship missile has a similar range.

In Tokyo on Thursday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga also said that it won’t affect bilateral efforts to resolve the territorial row.

“We are always closely monitoring what the Russian military is doing,” Suga told a news conference. “To drastically resolve this kind of issue, we need to settle the territorial row.”

The dispute over the islands, known as the Kurils in Russia and the Northern Territories in Japan, has strained relations between the two countries since World War II, when Soviet forces occupied four islands at the southern end of the chain.

The dispute is so acrimonious that Moscow and Tokyo have still not signed a peace treaty to formally end hostilities.

When Putin visits in December, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is scheduled to host the Russian leader in his hometown of Nagato, Yamaguchi Prefecture. Abe said earlier this year he hoped the venue would create a relaxed atmosphere conducive to progress on the peace talks.

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