From East Asia Forum, Leszek Buszynski discusses Russia’s decision to pursue the purchase of two French-made Mistral helicopter carriers (some of you may remember them being mentioned in Kyle Mizokami’s recent post calling on Japan to build hospital ships). While Buszynski is most concerned with the impact the purchase will have on the fraught relations between Russia and NATO, he explains the Japanese connection in great depth:
To alleviate NATO concerns, the Russians have said the Mistral will be deployed in the Asia Pacific, and away from the West. On 9 February this year, an Itar Tass report quoted a Russian defence Ministry ‘informant’, who said that both vessels would be deployed in the Southern Kurile Islands, which Japan claims. Suitable infrastructure, the informant said, would be constructed to accommodate them. Other reports claim that one Mistral vessel will be deployed with the Pacific Fleet at Vladivostok, and another with the Northern Fleet in the Arctic.
This is in line with Russian development out of Vladivostok. This includes new submarine base, a trend which seems aimed at challenging and deterring a more China that has shown itself more willing to flex its muscles. However, Buszynski seems to dismiss this supposed threat perception and point at a larger target, ASEAN:
Declaring that the Mistrals would be deployed in the southern Kurile Islands appears to be a political ploy to up the ante in escalating polemics with the Japanese over the disputed islands. Since President Dmitry Medvedev visited one of those islands, Kunashir, in November last year, relations with the Japanese have soured.
Medvedev is raising his political profile with the Russians in preparation for the presidential elections next year, and has seized on the dispute with the Japanese to boost his patriotic credentials. He has declared that the islands are an ‘inalienable’ part of Russia, but he has avoided any comment on the Mistral deployment.
Deploying the Mistrals in the Southern Kuriles makes little sense as the islands do not face any military threat from the Japanese and supporting infrastructure would take decades to develop. The idea of consigning them to the remote Arctic is even more senseless. The Pacific Fleet at Vladivostok is a more likely base for them, which would avoid another round of tensions with NATO. The communications and command functions of the Mistrals would significantly enhance the capability of the Pacific Fleet in amphibious and landing operations, but it is difficult to envisage scenarios in which they could be used in the Asia Pacific. Russia’s concerns about China relate to the land border and the vast spaces of the Far East and Siberia, for which a maritime capability is irrelevant, and the Russians have no maritime dispute with the Chinese. Their deployment with the Pacific Fleet at Vladivostok would serve another purpose: they would allow Russia to show the flag not only in the Southern Kurile Islands but in the ASEAN region as well — a step towards the revival of a Russian naval presence in the region.
It’s an interesting read, so please check out the full article as East Asia Forum.
A former contributor to World Intelligence (Japan Military Review), James Simpson joined Japan Security Watch in 2011, migrating with his blog Defending Japan. He has a Masters in Security Studies from Aberystwyth University and is currently living in Kawasaki, Japan.
His primary interests include the so-called 'normalization' of Japanese security (i.e. militarization), and the political impact of the abduction issue with North Korea.
James Simpson has 254 post(s) on Japan Security Watch