Russia is accelerating a military buildup on islands claimed by Japan, threatening to blow a hole in Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s efforts to lure President Vladimir Putin into settling the dispute, The Moscow Times reports.
The government in Tokyo lodged a formal protest after 2,000 Russian troops held military exercises last week on the four islands, called the Southern Kurils in Russia and the Northern Territories in Japan. A few days before, Russia paved the way for its first military airbase in the area.
Russia’s twin strikes came as diplomats from both countries met Feb. 6 to discuss joint economic development of the territories. Abe the next day marked Japan’s annual “Northern Territories Day” with a pledge that he and Putin would resolve the “abnormal” lack of a peace treaty after World War II.
Failure to end the dispute over the islands seized by Soviet troops at the end of the war would deal a severe blow to Abe, who’s poured time and energy into seeking a breakthrough since coming to power in 2012. For the Kremlin, cooler ties with Tokyo may put at risk promised Japanese investment and undermine Russian efforts to peel away a key U.S. ally. While determined to stay close to the U.S., Abe’s eager to strike a deal with Russia partly to counterbalance China’s growing economic and military power in the region.