Tension Rises in Pacific Theater as Russia Brings Missiles to Kuril, US Militarizes Tinian

Russia has positioned a battery of S-300V4 precision hit missiles in the Kuril Islands near Japan, inviting wrath from Tokyo. The Kuril islands, off Japan's Hokkaido, were captured by the Soviet forces at the end of World War II. Japan still claims sovereignty over the island chain.

"This is unacceptable because of Japan's position on the northern territories (the southern Kuril Islands disputed by Tokyo) and is unacceptable," a Japanese government official said.

According to the Defence World, S-300V4 are the latest version of the S-300 ADS. The missiles can intercept cruise and ballistic missiles and engage up to 24 aerial targets simultaneously. The advanced missiles can also endanger long range bombers and surveillance aircraft.

Two U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer bombers fly from Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, for a mission, with an escort of a pair of Japan Self-Defense Forces F-15 fighter jets and U.S. Marines' F-35B fighter jets in the vicinity of Kyushu Reuters

Aggressive Russian Military Build-Up

In recent years, Russia has been boosting military presence on the disputed island. In April 2019, Moscow set up an air defense alert zone on the Kuril island of Kunashir, while a year earlier, it flew Su-35 fighters to the Yasny airport on Iturup Island.

According to a former Russian Army Lieutenant General, Russia's latest move is in response to the US plans to deploy missiles in the Asia-Pacific region (APR).

Asia Times reported on Thursday that the US Department of Defense is going to build an air base on Tinian island, which is located just 100 miles from the Andersen Air Force Base in Guam.

The US presence in Guam has always been a thorn on the side of China and Russia, and it will be a target of the Chinese in the event of a clash with the Americans in the Pacific theater. The development of Tinian military base is the US answer to this threat, but this will not go unchallenged by the Chinese and the Russians.

Japan to boost South China Sea role with joint training patrols with US
Japan's defence minister Tomomi Inada (centre) reviewing a guard of honour at the Ministry of Defense in Tokyo, Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo Reuters

Tinian, part of the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands, was seized from the Japanese in 1944. It is from this island, which is also known as North Field, that two B-29 bombers took off for the mission to drop nuclear bombs in Japan during World War II.

Now, the escalation of Pacific tensions and Russia's decision to beef up military equipment in Kuril islands will hamper Tokyo's efforts to solve the decades-old dispute. The new Japanese Prime Minister, Yoshihide Suga, had discussed the territorial dispute with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and said he hoped the two sides could arrive at a solution and sign a peace treaty.

The Kuril Island Dispute

Japan says it has sovereignty over four southern Kuril Islands - Iturup, Kunashir, Shikotan and Habomai. However, Russia asserts that the capture of the islands during World War II has legal sanctity.

The Kuril Islands stretch from Hokkaido to the southern tip of Russia's Kamchatka Peninsula. The island chain consists of 56 large land masses and minor rocks, surrounded by rich fishing grounds. While Russia refers to these islands as Southern Kurils, the Japanese call them Northern Territories. The people of Hokkaido have cultural and emotional links with the territories.

In the 1950s, Moscow had offered to give back two islands closest to mainland Japan but Tokyo rejected the offer as the land offered constituted only 7% of disputed territory.