Russian President Vladimir Putin raised the bar for discussions on resolving the Northern Territories dispute with Japan by mentioning a potential U.S. threat to his nation if the four islands were returned.
“If they come under the sovereignty of Japan, there is the possibility that U.S. military bases could be placed there,” Putin said in St. Petersburg on June 1 in a session with representatives of major news agencies.
Although Putin has previously spoken about the national security importance to Russia of the Northern Territories, this was the first time the Russian leader publicly raised concerns about U.S. military bases being built on the four islands off the southeastern coast of Hokkaido.
Japanese officials are trying to promote joint economic activity on the islands as a catalyst for pushing forward negotiations with Russia on resolving the territorial dispute.
However, those talks are in danger of stalling even before they start because of Putin’s mention of national security.
Soviet forces seized the islands at the end of World War II, and the dispute over the isles has been the major reason for a lack of a peace treaty between Japan and Russia.
When Putin visited Japan in December for talks with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, he mentioned the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty and emphasized the military importance of the Northern Territories to Russia.
But Putin went a step further on the sidelines of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum.
When asked about the possibility of demilitarizing the Northern Territories, Putin said that Russia was bolstering its military presence there to counter moves by the U.S. military. His comment came amid rising tensions in the relationship between Russia and the United States.
Putin added that Moscow would never allow Washington to deploy a ballistic missile defense system on the Northern Territories.
Russia considers the Kamchatka Peninsula and the Chishima Islands archipelago that surrounds the Sea of Okhotsk as a major defense line for the Asia-Pacific region.
Putin called NATO a major military threat to Russia from the European side and said that a similar development was occurring in the Far East with U.S. missile defense systems being set up in cooperation with Japan and South Korea.
“Missile defense will damage the balance of stability in the world,” Putin said.
He said when considering the possible national security threats to Russia, the Northern Territories and the Chishima Islands were “located in an ideal place.”
(This article was compiled from reports by Hitoki Nakagawa in Vladivostok and Akiyoshi Komaki in St. Petersburg.)