Russia conducts missile drill on disputed islands off Hokkaido

Russia’s Defence Ministry said that it conducted a missile drill Thursday on the Moscow-held, Tokyo-claimed islands off Hokkaido, according to NHK.

The ministry said that it conducted an exercise involving the S-300 surface-to-air missile system. The S-300 is designed to shoot down fighter jets and missiles with a range of 400 kilometers. The system intercepted all airborne targets during the drill, the report said.

Due to its invasion of Ukraine, a large portion of Russia’s military forces on the islands of Etorofu and Kunashiri, which Moscow calls Iturup and Kunashir, are reportedly deployed to Eastern Europe. The latest move is seen as a signal to Japan and other countries in Asia.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said Friday the government lodged a protest against Russia through diplomatic channels, adding that the drill had been conducted without prior notice.

Speaking at a news conference, Matsuno said the government conveyed to the Russian side that the drill is incompatible with Japan’s stance and is unacceptable. He said that Tokyo is watching Russia’s military activities near Japan “with grave concerns from national security perspectives.”

Meanwhile, 10 Russian navy ships passed through the Tsugaru Strait, which separates Honshu and Hokkaido, the Defense Ministry said Friday.

In February, the navy conducted a large-scale maritime exercise in Russia’s Far East region and the 10 warships are believed to have participated in that exercise.

“It is concerning that the Russian military is stepping up operations around Japan while Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues,” Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi told a news conference Friday. “We will keep a close watch with a sense of tension,” he added. Kishi also said that Japan has expressed its concern through diplomatic channels.

Around 2 a.m. Thursday, Maritime Self-Defense Force patrol aircraft spotted the 10 ships, including a Udaloy-class destroyer, sailing in the Pacific Ocean at a point some 180 kilometers east-northeast of Cape Erimo in Hokkaido, according to the ministry.

The 10 ships passed through the Tsugaru Strait from Thursday night to early Friday, heading for the Sea of Japan. It appears that they did not intrude into Japanese territorial waters.

The sailing of Russian navy vessels in the Tsugaru Strait was the first since last October, when Russian and Chinese warships passed through the strait together.

The Self-Defense Forces are closely monitoring the Russian moves, which may have been in response to Japan’s sanctions on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine and Japan’s support for Kyiv.

The Tsugaru Strait is designated as an international strait, meaning that areas 3 nautical miles or more from the coasts are classified the same as the high seas and are therefore open to foreign ships.

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