Sankei learned on June 20 that a Russian vavy’s intelligence ship circumnavigated Hokkaido from May to June 2022. This is an unusual action for the Russian military. The ship appears to have been monitoring the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) and the U.S. military in Hokkaido and Tohoku by intercepting communications. As a member of the Group of Seven (G7), Japan and the U.S. imposed economic sanctions to heighten pressure on Russia, which continues to invade Ukraine. It seems that one of Russia’s aims is to restrain Japan and the U.S. This information was revealed to Sankei by several government officials.
The ship that circumnavigated Hokkaido is a Russian navy Balzam-class intelligence ship. The ship sailed eastward through the Soya Strait on May 18, sailed through waters off the Northern Territories and Sanriku area of the Tohoku region, and sailed westward through the Soya Strait westward on June 7. The ship sailed further south, headed eastward in the Tsugaru Strait on June 9, circled Hokkaido again, then headed westward in the Soya Strait on June 12.
The intelligence ship did not sail at a constant speed, and turned off its engine at multiple locations. The ship is believed to have collected electronic radar information and intercepted communications from the Air Self-Defense Force (ASDF) Chitose Air Base in Hokkaido and the U.S. Air Force Misawa Air Base in Aomori Prefecture. The ship may have been testing the response of SDF and the U.S. military to its presence.
The Maritime Self-Defense Force (MSDF) collected information from the sea with the Suou, a multipurpose support ship of the Ominato Area Guard Group in Aomori Prefecture, and Wakataka of the 1st Missile Boat Corps in Hokkaido. The P-3C patrol aircraft of the 2nd Fleet Air Wing in Aomori was also alerted and monitored the ship.
As for waters around Japan, the presence of the Russian Navy’s destroyers and frigates was confirmed in the Pacific Ocean east of Hokkaido on June 9. The fleet passed through waters off Inubosaki, Chiba Prefecture, and the Izu Islands, Tokyo, then sailed between the main island of Okinawa and Miyako Island to enter the East China Sea on June 19. The intelligence ship that circumnavigated Hokkaido is said to be acting independently from the other vessels.
Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Isozaki Yoshihiko said at a press conference on June 20, “We will pay close attention to the activities of the Russian military and take all possible precautions and surveillance activities in the air and sea areas around Japan,” revealing that Japan was communicating its increased vigilance to the Russian side.