Brief: Russia and Japan Jostle Over the Kurils

Russia's deployment of air defense systems has sparked tensions with its Pacific neighbor.

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Background: Russia and Japan have jockeyed for power in the northwestern Pacific for more than a century. The two countries never even signed a peace treaty after Japan’s defeat in World War II (though they did formally declare an end to a state of war in 1956). The main point of contention is continued Russian control of the northern half of the Kuril island chain north of Hokkaido. Moscow’s logic here is simple: It wants to maintain secure access to key maritime trade routes to its east. It also sees the region as invaluable for throwing its weight around in regional issues involving its many rivals, as well as for maintaining nuclear parity with the United States. Japan’s location just offshore puts it in prime position to challenge Russia’s needs here. Moscow has repeatedly rebuffed Tokyo’s pursuit of a peace treaty that would ostensibly settle the territorial dispute. And over the past couple of years, with Moscow looking for new ways to exert its influence in Northeast Asia and undermine America’s regional alliance structure, it’s been steadily building up its Pacific forces. What Happened: Russia on Tuesday said it had deployed S-300 air defense systems in Iturup, one of the […]

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