Europe

Russia beefs up Kurils military base despite Japan tensions

Russian armoured vehicle - file image Image copyright AFP
Image caption Russia is boosting its military presence in its sparsely populated far north and far east

Russia says it will expand its military presence on the Kuril Islands, which lie off Japan's northern coast and are claimed by Japan.

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said the Kuril base would be developed along with four Arctic bases.

The row blocked a peace treaty between Russia and Japan after World War Two.

In July Mr Shoigu said two garrisons were being built on Kunashir and Iturup - the main islands in the group near Hokkaido, Japan's northernmost island.

Japan protested when Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev visited Kunashir and Iturup in August. The Kurils are called the Northern Territories in Japan.

The Soviet Union seized the islands in 1945, shortly before Japan's surrender in World War Two.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption On Kunashir island Mr Medvedev (pictured) saw Soviet-era fortifications

According to Mr Shoigu, the military infrastructure on the Kurils will include leisure facilities for the soldiers and their families, including cinemas, modern housing, hospitals, and new roads. A new airport has been opened on Iturup. He was quoted by the Russian armed forces channel TV Zvezda.

A separate report, on the Russian news website Gazeta.ru, said the backbone of the military presence already on the islands was the 18th machine-gun artillery division, numbering 3,500. It is equipped with T-80 tanks and Buk M-1 anti-aircraft missiles.

The islands also host a submarine base which Gazeta.ru described as "the most significant element for Russia - they can guard against the possible appearance of foreign submarines in the Sea of Okhotsk".

Of all the new bases under construction, the biggest is on Kotelny Island in the Arctic, in the Novosibirsk archipelago. Mr Shoigu says it is bigger than any base the Soviet Union had in the region.

The other bases are being built on Wrangel Island, Cape Schmidt and on the east coast of Chukotka.

Six Arctic airfields are being modernised, and should be completed by 2017, the minister said. MiG-31 fighters will be deployed at Tiksi airfield and Anadyr.

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