Russia vows to arm disputed Kurile islands
The Mistral class amphibious assault ship.
Russia will deploy new weapons to protect an island chain at the centre of a dispute with Tokyo, President Dmitry Medvedev said on Wednesday, just days before a visit by Japan's foreign minister. Soviet troops occupied the four islands off Japan's Hokkaido at the end of World War Two and they have remained in Moscow's hands, preventing the two countries signing a peace treaty and straining their relations.
Russia must deploy "necessary, sufficient and modern weaponry to ensure the security of the islands as an inseparable part of Russia," Medvedev told Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov at the president's residence near Moscow.
Last year Russia's Chief of Staff Nikolai Makarov said Russia may send Mistral-class helicopter carriers it is buying from France under a December deal to the Pacific to help protect the islands.
Russia has an artillery division armed with outdated weaponry deployed on the small, windswept Southern Kuriles, and the number of military personnel is not publicly available.
Medvedev also called for investment in the islands from any of Russia's Pacific region neighbours who do not feel cooperating with Russia on the issue "insulting".
Medvedev angered Japan in November by making the first visit by a Russian leader to the islands some 7,000 km (4,350 miles) east of Moscow. Most of Kurile's 19,000 people live in the four disputed islands.
Serdyukov visited military units on the islands last week, prompting new protests from Japan, whose Foreign Minister Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara is due to visit Moscow on Friday.
"We now understand which weaponry should be there, which measures will be taken to rebuild the military infrastructure," Serdyukov told Medvedev on Wednesday. He did not elaborate.
Russia plans to invest $615 million in the development of the islands between 2007 and 2015 with the bulk of the cash coming from the federal budget. Over one third of the amount has already been invested.
"These islands are unique. There are opportunities to develop tourism there. We need to lure investors into these islands," Medvedev said. "Those who do not consider our cooperation 'insulting' are welcome."
Russia has stressed it will not surrender the islands and urged Japan, which competes with China and Korea for lucrative Russian deals and access to energy resources, to focus instead on bolstering trade and economic ties with Russia.
During Maehara's visit, the two sides will discuss joint construction of a liquefied natural gas plant in Russia's Pacific. Japan and Russian gas monopoly Gazprom agreed last year to conduct a feasibility study for the project.