MOSCOW, February 5 (RIA Novosti) – Russia has started large-scale military exercises in the disputed Kuril Islands in the country’s far east, a military official said on Tuesday.
The Kuril Islands, known to neighboring Japan as the Northern Territories, are a contentious issue in Russian-Japanese relations. The exercises are taking place just two days before Japan marks its Northern Territories Day on February 7.
The exercises have included cooperation between Russian Pacific Fleet ships, tactical fighter aviation and artillery as well as border guard personnel based in the islands area, eastern military district spokesman Alexander Gordeyev told reporters on Tuesday.
“In particular, the exercises will practice a special operation aimed at helping a vessel in distress in Russian waters,” Gordeyev said. He did not specifiy which of the islands was involved in the exercises.
The disputed islands of Iturup, Kunashiri, Shikotan and Habomai, called the Southern Kurils in Russia, are still claimed by Japan. They were occupied by Soviet forces at the end of World War II.
Last month former Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori suggested Japan should seek the return of just three of the islands, leaving Iturup to Russia, to settle the dispute. But Japan’s Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said all four islands belong to Japan and the government is not planning to overturn its position.
Russia has maintained it will not give up the islands’ sovereignty. In 2010, then President Dmitry Medvedev sparked a diplomatic row with Tokyo by making the first ever visit by a Russian leader to the islands, and later said Russia would increase its military presence there.