Russia Holds Wargames Off Of Japanese Coast

Lituanus.org

by KYLE MIZOKAMI

One of the problems of living at the gateway to Asia is that anyone who lives in Asia, well, has to go through the gate. Such is Japan’s problem lately, with China and now Russia holding exercises and transiting ships near its borders. Anyone who lives in a large apartment building directly above the garage can probably sympathize:

Russia conducted a military drill last weekend on Etorofu, one of four Russian-held islands off Hokkaido claimed by Japan, despite a request by Tokyo not to do so.

A press officer in the military’s Far East district said Saturday-Sunday drill was “the largest-scale exercise held on the disputed islands since the collapse of the Soviet Union” in 1991.

It immediately drew criticism from Japan, with Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada expressing “deep regret” over the military exercise.

It seems like Okada has been issuing a lot of “deep regret” statements lately:

Japan and Russia just agreed to enter talks over the future of the Kurils, or the “Northern Territories,” as Japan calls them. One could interpret this as a sign from Moscow that while it may be willing to talk and ultimately give up the islands, they won’t come cheap.

According to an announcement dated Sunday by the Russian Defense Ministry, the drill on Etorofu Island was part of the Vostok 2010 strategic exercises in the Russian Far East and Siberia, which began June 29 and will continue through Thursday.

The drill on Etorofu involved about 1,500 soldiers and 200 military and special-purpose vehicles, it said.

Apparently the forces involved in the drill were Russian naval infantry, likely from the Pacific Fleet at Vladivostok. Here’s a collection of pics that show BTR-80 wheeled armored personnel carriers and SA-8 Gecko short-range mobile air defense systems unloading from a Ropucha-class LST and Landing Craft, Utility. (Where did the LCUs come from?) Also some RHIB and frogmen action.

The operations on Etorofu are part of the larger Vostok 2010 exercises. It looks like this is Russia’s big exercise for the year, with ships from three fleets participating. Ships from the Northern and Black Sea Fleets travelled a long way to participate. (Just like Tsushima.)

It looks impressive, but almost all of those vehicles, planes, and ships–everything from the Ropucha LST to the Il-38 May maritime patrol aircraft to the BTR APCs are between 20 and 40 years old. Things like the Internet — and Ronald Reagan leaving office — have happened since. Peter the Great, commissioned in 1998, appears to be the youngest piece of hardware present. Even worse, there is no money to replace the aging stuff. Russia doesn’t even have a new maritime patrol aircraft on the drawing board, to my knowledge.

One wonders if Russia is deliberately putting on a big show on before negotiations begin with Japan on the future of the islands. If so, why? Are they willing to cut a deal?

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