With attention on Russia’s role in Syria and Ukraine, the Kremlin’s long-term dispute with the Japan over the Kuril Islands has fallen to the wayside. But after a Kremlin announcement Tuesday that it would construct military compounds on the islands, relations with Japan were likely to become even more strained.
“A total of 392 buildings and facilities are to be put up. Only advanced pre-fabricated structures easy to assemble will be used,” said Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu, Russia state service TASS reported. “This will allow for the proper accommodation of personnel and military hardware and for making it operational.”
Among those buildings, Shoigu said construction had already begun on two military compounds on the disputed islands of Iturup and Kunashir, AFP reported. The four southern islands of the Kuril chain – Kunashir (Kunashiri in Japanese), Iturup (Etorofu in Japanese), Shikotan and Habomai – have long been claimed by both Russia and Japan. Russia refers to them as the Southern Kurils and Japan calls the islands its Northern Territories.
Approximately 19,000 Russians live on the islands, which were under Soviet occupation at the end of World War II. Russia and Japan never officially signed a peace treaty at the end of the war because of the dispute over the islands, the BBC reported.
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev visited Iturup island in September angering Japan. The Kremlin has said it will not negotiate over the islands, with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov saying that Japan needs to understand “the postwar historical realities.”
Shoigu said schools, hostels and child care centers would be among the buildings constructed. Enough building materials have been delivered to the islands for construction to take place throughout the winter.
The Kremlin’s announcement comes at a moment of numerous international entanglements. Russia began airstrikes in Syria at the end of September. Turkey shot down a Russian aircraft last week it says violated its airspace causing a confrontation with the Kremlin.