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Tensions between Russia and Japan: where are the Kuril Islands?

The Japanese government has appealed to Moscow in response to plans for Russian military exercises in the contested Kuril Islands.

Ubicación de las islas Kuriles, al norte de Japón

The Government of Japan has responded to warnings that the Russian Armed Forces are carrying out military exercises on the Kuril Islands, a volcanic archipelago in the Russian Far East. The island has been administrated by Russia since the Soviet Union invaded in 1945 but its closeness to Japan has caused concern.

The exercises are scheduled to take place between 30 August and 5 September as part of a plan called Vostok 2022, or ‘East 2022′.

The Russian Ministry of Defence claims that this series of military maneuvers aims to “guarantee military security in the eastern region [of Russia]”. Apart from Russian ground and air troops, soldiers from other countries will also participate in the exercises, which will be carried out across thirteen militarised sites.

The suggestion that these large-scale exercises may take place on the Kuril Islands, which is located between the Japanese island of Hokkaido and the Russian peninsula of Kamchatka, has caused the Japanese authorities to launch a diplomatic protest to Moscow.

“We present a firm declaration in the sense that the Northern Territories must be excluded from the areas for drills”, Japanese Undersecretary of the Cabinet, Yoshihiko Isozaki, said at a press conference, refering to the Kuril Islands.

“An inalienable territory” for Russia

Last April the Japanese government higlighted the situation in this group of islands - Iturup, Kunashir, Shikotan and Habomai - in its annual diplomatic report, the ‘Diplomatic Blue Book’.

The report accuses Russia of “illegally occupying” the territory. Kremlin spokesperson Dimitri Peskov responded by claiming that this group of islands, occupied by Soviet troops in the aftermath of World War II, is “an inalienable territory of Russia.”

Japan, a pacifist nation by constitution, has grown wary of the threat from nearby powers in recent months. China, the pre-eminent force in the region, has become increasingly ambitious and may consider a military move to reclaim Taiwan in the near future. Last week Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s Cabinet approved a white papaer outlining the need for Japan’s military to be bolstered to address security concerns.