Japan has said Russia's recent deployment of missile systems on two of the islands in disputed Pacific waters is unlikely to have any impact on relations between the two countries. It will also not affect the preparations for Russian President Vladimir Putin's forthcoming visit to Japan, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said on Thursday (24 November).
On Tuesday (22 November), the Russian Navy's Pacific Fleet had deployed state-of-the-art anti-ship missile systems – Bal and Bastion - on two of the islands off Hokkaido that is claimed by Japan, which Russia calls as Kurile.
According to reports, the missile systems were now in operation in the disputed waters, an uninhabited archipelago in the Pacific Ocean over which both the countries have staked rival claims for years. The Soviet military seized the whole of the Kurile archipelago at the end of World War II.
"I think it will have no effect," the Russian news agency Tass cited Suga as saying, while referring to the Russian navy's activities on the Kunashir and Iturup islands. When asked if Japan would retaliate, he said his government will take appropriate steps in accordance with the available information.
Suga added that Tokyo was closely monitoring the situation and that it was necessary "to resolve the issue of the Northern Territories".
Japan has reportedly not released an official statement yet about Russia's deployment. Japan's Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said on Tokyo will "consider this [development] to have serious significance, and will respond in an appropriate manner, after studying the details".
Russia is also reported to be of the opinion that its deployment of missile systems should not harm talks with Japan. Its presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Russian defence ministry had reasons for deploying Bal and Bastion in the waters.
"This should in no way harm the fast trends that there have developed in our relations with Tokyo in terms of thorough preparations for President Putin's upcoming visit to Japan and the continuing contacts over ways of advancing bilateral relations, in particular, in the economy, and from the standpoint of talks on problems related to a peace treaty," Peskov said.
According to Reuters, the Bastion is a mobile missile system that is armed with two anti-ship missiles and has a range of up to 300 km (188 miles). It has been deployed in Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014.
"No matter what the intentions were from the Russian side, this is more bad news for Abe," said James Brown, an associate professor at Temple University Japan Campus in Tokyo. "The Kantei [prime minister's office] will need to work hard to convince the Japanese public of the wisdom of the 'new approach'."
The two countries have been in dispute over ownership of the Kurile Islands for almost seven decades now and are yet to sign a peace treaty to formally end their wartime hostilities. Tokyo has been insisting that Kremlin resolve the long-standing territorial dispute before signing a peace treaty, while Moscow has been stressing that both the issues are separate and that it occupied the islands legitimately.