This screenshot from Russian Defense Ministry video shows the Bastion coastal missile system deployed to Matua, a volcanic island north of Japan’s Hokkaido prefecture. (Russian Ministry of Defense)
The Russian military has deployed a coastal defense missile system capable of targeting carrier strike groups, navy convoys and landing craft near disputed islands in northern Japan, according to the Russian Defense Ministry.
“The crews of the Pacific Fleet Bastion coastal missile system have been deployed for the first time and have taken up duty on Matua Island,” the ministry said on its website on Thursday.
Matua is a nearly 11-kilometer-long volcanic island in the Kuril Mountains north of the Japanese prefecture of Hokkaido, but not one of the four islands occupied by Russia in the group claimed by Japan.
“On this isolated island in the central part of the Kuril Ridge, the military will be on standby 24 hours a day to monitor the water area and the adjacent straits,” the defense ministry said.
The equipment, personnel and material were delivered to Matua by amphibious ships of the Primorsk flotilla, according to the ministry statement.
“The personnel began to be on duty and to conduct planned combat training activities,” he said.
This screenshot from Russian Defense Ministry video shows the Bastion coastal defense missile system deployed to Matua, a volcanic island north of Japan’s Hokkaido prefecture. (Russian Ministry of Defense)
The announcement did not specify how many anti-ship missile systems have been deployed to Matua, but a video posted on the ministry’s website shows several missile carriers disembarking from amphibious landing ships.
Russia has deployed a different stronghold system, with a range of 310 miles to the Southern Kurils in 2016, according to an article published in The Guardian newspaper on Thursday.
The following year, Russian President Vladimir Putin declared that his country’s military build-up in the Far East was a necessary response to the United States’ missile defense shield. The United States deployed a high altitude terminal area defense system, also known as THAAD, to South Korea in March 2017.
Russia has been talking for several years about developing military installations at Matua, the site of a former Japanese airstrip, according to James Brown, an expert in international affairs at the Japanese campus of Temple University.
“He now appears to be moving forward with these plans,” he said in an email Thursday.
The aim appears to be to strengthen Russia’s position at the starting point of the Northern Sea Route, Brown said.
The Arctic Sea Route, which is only open briefly each summer, has the potential to save time, fuel and money for shippers involved in the multi-billion dollar trade between Asia. and Europe.
“Russia is also keen to maintain control over the Sea of Okhotsk, which is important for its nuclear submarines,” Brown said. Russian submarines are believed to be hiding in the sea in relative safety from potential adversaries.