Russian warships staged a show of force in the Sea of Japan after the country’s new prime minister laid claim to a chain of islands controlled by Moscow.
The Varyag, a Russian cruiser and flagship of the Pacific Fleet, took part in the exercises on Monday along with the submarine destroyer Admiral Tributs and 12 support ships.
Part of the exercise took place in Japan’s “economic zone,” where military exercises are banned under international law, local media said, comparing it to a “welcome message” for new Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who was sworn in just last week.
It comes after Kishida laid claim to part of the Kuril Islands chain that separates the Sea of Okhotsk on Russia’s Far Eastern coast from the Pacific.
Russia’s Pacific Fleet held combat exercises in the Sea of Japan on Monday, some of which are believed to have taken place in Japan’s “economic zone”.
Speaking to parliament on Tuesday, the day after the military exercise, Kishida promised to resolve a dispute over the islands that dates back to World War II.
But Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quick to dismiss the claim, describing all of the islands as “Russian territory”.
The Russian Defense Ministry announced on Monday that the Varyag had shot down ten “high-speed targets” with three of its missile systems – called Fort, Klinok and Osa.
The video of the drill released Tuesday showed Varyag firing his AK-630 machine gun turret and a heavy artillery cannon on his deck.
The exercises are “planned”, said Russia – a sentence intended to imply that they were not a reaction to Kishida – and “part of the final inspection for the summer training”.
Russia and Japan are currently in talks on the Kuril Islands, a volcanic archipelago that stretches from the north coast of Japan to the southern tip of the Russian province of Kamchatka.
Historically, ownership of the islands has been divided, with the Russian Empire and the Japanese Empire agreeing to the division in the Treaty of Shimoda of 1855.
This treaty gave Japan control of the four southernmost islands it calls the “Northern Territories” while the rest was given to Russia.
Russia said the Varyag, the flagship of its Pacific fleet, had destroyed “high-speed air targets” with its missile defense systems (picture).
The video of the exercise also showed the ship firing its machine-gun turrets and main cannon, which Russia described as an exercise at the end of the summer training season
The video of the exercise was released when Japan’s Prime Minister laid claim to a number of controversial islands, leading some to liken the exercise to a “welcome message”.
But at the end of World War II, the Soviets took control of the entire chain, despite Japan refusing to acknowledge the move.
Because of the dispute, the two countries have still not signed an official peace treaty.
Kishida promised to solve the problem and told ministers on Tuesday: “Our country’s sovereignty includes the Northern Territories.
“We have to solve this problem and not leave it to future generations. The government intends to sign a peace treaty with Russia. ‘
But Peskov hit back against the claim and simply said, “We don’t agree.”
Lavrov said last week that Russia has “constructive, open relations” with Japan, but the prospect of the islands returning to Tokyo is considered highly unlikely while Putin remains in office.
The chain of islands is just the latest focal point in the Pacific, amid an ongoing stalemate between China and Taiwan that threatens to drag the US, Australia and other allies including the UK.
A week ago, China flew 150 planes into Taiwan’s air defense zone in a huge show of force coinciding with the National Day celebrations.
Japan claims sovereignty over the four southern islands that were conquered by the Soviets towards the end of World War II
Taiwan then held its own National Day parade over the weekend, during which President Tsai Ing-wen gave a speech in which she vowed not to bow to pressure from Beijing.
China’s President Xi Jinping has promised to “reunite” the island with the mainland, if necessary by force.
Meanwhile, North Korea continues to test new weapon systems and only yesterday accused the US and South Korea of compromising its security.
Kim Jong Un, who attended a weapons exhibition where he spoke while surrounded by missiles, vowed to build an “invincible military.”
But the dictatorial ruler insisted that given America’s “hostile policies” it would only be used for self-defense.