Japan’s decision to acquire and deploy U.S.-made Aegis Ashore missile defense installations on its territory has not gone over well in Russia. Tokyo decided last week to deploy two systems to defend against North Korean ballistic missile threats.
According to Maria Zakharova, spokesperson for the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the deployment would lead to a deterioration in bilateral ties between Moscow and Tokyo. Zakharova made the remarks at a weekly press briefing on Thursday.
“Actions like these are in direct contradiction to the priority of building military and political trust between Russia and Japan, and, unfortunately, will impact in a negative way on the whole atmosphere in bilateral relations, including negotiations over the peace treaty problem,” Zakharova remarked.
Bilateral ties between Japan and Russia have been on the mend since Japan joined the Group of Seven in imposing sanctions on Moscow after its 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, beginning in 2016, started to restore bilateral ties and has pursued a range of new economic arrangements with Russia.
Among the issues on the bilateral agenda is the final status of the Kuril Islands, which Japan calls the Northern Territories. Russia administers all the islands and Japan claims four of them; the two countries have been negotiating the status of the islands over the last 18 months with few results.
Russian opposition to the Japanese Aegis Ashore deployment also has to do with concerns about the U.S. military presence in Asia and the status of longstanding arms control agreements.
“In practice it will mean one more breach of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty by the Americans with, in fact, Japan’s assistance,” she added, referring to the 1989 treaty that required the United States and the Soviet Union to eliminate all ground-launched cruise and ballistic missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers indefinitely. The INF Treaty is the only Cold War-era arms control agreement still in effect between Russia and the United States.
Russia has long argued that the Mark-41 vertical launch system (VLS) in the Aegis Ashore system violates the INF Treaty because of its ability to launch offensive cruise missile. The system has been used to launch cruise missiles on the U.S. Navy’s guided missile destroyers.
This month, the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Arms Control, Verification, and Compliance refuted longstanding Russian claims regarding the Mark-41.
“Although it utilizes some of the same structural components as the sea-based Mk-41 Vertical Launch System installed on ships, the Aegis Ashore vertical launching system is NOT the same launcher as the sea-based MK-41 Vertical Launch System,” the State Department claimed in a factsheet rebutting common Russian allegations regarding U.S. compliance with the Treaty.