Russia plans to build military base on disputed Kuril Islands

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Kunashir island
AFPKunashir island

Japan claims sovereignty over northwest Pacific archipelago seized by Russia after World War II

Russia's Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Thursday that Moscow plans to build a military base on the Kuril Islands, a group of Pacific islands it seized from Japan at the end of World War Two, the Interfax news agency reported.

The decision will likely put further strain on already frayed ties between Japan and Russia, who never signed a formal peace treaty following the end of the war.

According to the Russian armed forces channel TV Zvezda,  Shoigu said that the base will include leisure facilities for the soldiers and their families, including cinemas, housing, hospitals, and new roads. A new airport has also been opened on the island of Iturup.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev visited the Kuril islands in August, prompting a swift rebuke from Tokyo, which claims sovereignty over the northwest Pacific archipelago in a long-running dispute.

Medvedev landed on Iturup, one of four islands in the chain that lies off Russia's far eastern coast and just north of Japan, Russian media reports said.

Dmitry Astakhov (RIA Novosti/AFP)
Dmitry Astakhov (RIA Novosti/AFP)Dmitry Medvedev visits Kitovyi village on Iturup island on August 22, 2015

"Everything is perfectly modern here," Medvedev was quoted as saying on his arrival.

"This is the result of our development program for the Kuril islands."

Hajime Hayashi, the head of the Japanese foreign ministry's European division, telephoned the Russian ambassador in Tokyo over the August visit to the islands, which Japan calls the Northern Territories.

The trip "contradicts Japan's position over the Northern Territories and hurts the feelings of the Japanese people... It is extremely regrettable", Hayashi said, quoted by a foreign ministry official.

The seven-decade-old dispute has hampered trade and prevented Moscow and Tokyo from signing a formal post-war peace treaty.

Both the Kremlin and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had hoped to start mending relations in order to revive trade, with Japan seeking broader access to Russia's plentiful oil and natural gas supplies.

Medvedev visited the islands in 2012, and Russia held military exercises there in 2014. Both incidents provoked protests from Tokyo.

(Staff with AFP)

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