Yakhont anti-ship missile.

In a curious development, Russia has decided to deploy advanced weapons systems to the southern Kuril Islands, claimed by Japan as the Northern Territories. According to Kyodo, Russia has decided to deploy Tor-M2 surface to air missile systems and Mi-28 attack helicopters to the Kurils. Tor-M2, a point defense SAM with a maximum range of 12 kilometers, isn’t too much of a concern except as part of the overall buildup.

More serious is the plan to deploy Yakhont anti-ship missiles to the Kurils. Yakhont, a ramjet-powered sea-skimming missile capable of speeds of up to Mach 2.5, packs a 300 kg warhead and has an effective range of 120 to 300 kilometers. Based in the Kurils a battery of Yakhont missiles could strike targets in Japanese territorial waters.

The deployment of Mi-28 “Havoc” attack helicopters is puzzling. Havoc helicopters are anti-tank platforms. Why place Havoc helicopters on an island where their only possible adversary is the only country on Earth that has renounced war? Why not, you know, the Caucasus, or western Russia, or opposite Georgia? Why the Kurils?

Mi-28 attack helicopter. Creative Commons photo, Flickr user Sergey Vladimirov.

The idea of Japan initiating military action to recover the Kurils is ludicrous, and the Russians know that. It’s hard imagine how stationing such expensive and valuable weapons systems on the most peaceful and least threatened part of the Russian frontier is useful, except to intimidate Japan. And even then, if the point was to intimidate Japan, why should Russia bother?

There are signs that Russia and China may be acting in concert in asserting their claims against Japan. If so, these planned deployments may be purely political in nature. Japan’s political leadership right now is extremely weak, and that makes now an excellent time to bully Japan into acquiescing to foreign demands.

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A contributor and editor at the blog War Is Boring, Kyle Mizokami started Japan Security Watch in 2010 to further understand Japan's defenses and security policy.
Kyle Mizokami has 530 post(s) on Japan Security Watch