• Reuters

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Japan’s government has lodged a protest after the Russian military deployed its new S-300V4 missile defense system for combat duty on a chain of Russian-held islands off Hokkaido, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said Wednesday.

Russia said Tuesday it had deployed the missile defense system for combat duty on the islands. The Russian Defense Ministry’s Zvezda TV station said the mobile air defense system, designed to counter ballistic and aerial attacks, was on Iturup — known in Japan as Etorofu — one of four islands seized by Russia at the end of World War II and still claimed by Japan, which calls them the Northern Territories.

“Short-range anti-aircraft missile systems are already on duty on the island of Iturup in Sakhalin Region. Now the air defense ‘heavy artillery’ has arrived. The so-called large air defense system: the S-300V4,” Zvezda said.

A territorial dispute over the islands has prevented the two countries from signing a formal peace treaty. Russia calls the islands the Kurils.

Japan is highly sensitive to military moves by Russia on the strategically important chain of islands that stretch northeast from Hokkaido to the Russian Far East region of Kamchatka.

Russia said in October it planned to deploy the missile system on the islands for the first time, but that the move would be part of military drills and not for combat duty.

The deployment comes not long after former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who mounted a push to resolve the dispute and tried to win over Russian President Vladimir Putin, announced he was stepping down, in August.

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