Japan has vowed to respond to Russia’s “significant” deployment of anti-ship missiles to disputed islands in the Pacific Ocean.
It comes as it emerged Russia is also planning to relaunch “nuclear trains,” a railroad-based weapons system that was used by the Soviet Union during the late 1980s.
Russia’s armed forces said this week that its state-of-the-art Bastion and Bal anti-ship missile systems had been put into operation on the Kuril islands, a desolate archipelago which was seized by the Soviet military at the end of the Second World War.
The seven-decade dispute over ownership of the islands has prevented Moscow and Tokyo from signing a peace treaty to formally end wartime hostilities.
“We consider this [development] to have serious significance, and will respond in an appropriate manner, after studying the details,” Fumio Kishida, the Japanese foreign minister, said on Wednesday.
But Mr Kishida also said that he hoped to make progress on concluding a peace deal with Moscow during a visit by Vladimir Putin, the Russian leader, to Japan in December.
Shinzo Abe, the Japanese prime minister, said this year that the lack of a peace treaty was “abnormal.”
Formidable obstacles remain in the path of any peace deal to the long-running dispute. Tokyo insists that sovereignty of the islands, known as the Northern Territories in Japan, must be resolved before a peace treaty can be concluded, while Moscow says the two issues are separate and that it occupied the islands legitimately in 1945.
Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, said on Wednesday that Russia’s defense ministry had grounds for deploying the anti-ship missiles, but he did not give further details. Mr Peskov also said he did not believe their deployment would hinder peace efforts.
Bastion missiles have a range of up to 300km (188 miles) and have also been deployed by Russia in Crimea, which the Kremlin annexed from Ukraine in 2014. Bal anti-ship missiles have a similar range.
Amid mounting international tensions, news that Russia is also planning to relaunch “nuclear trains” has also raised alarm.
The Barguzin system consists of six Yars or Yars-M thermonuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles, their launchers and command units, concealed within train carriages.
The “nuclear trains” will travel around Russia to avoid detection by enemy satellites, and will be virtually indistinguishable from ordinary trains. They can travel up to 600 miles a day and are expected to enter service between 2018 and 2020.
Successful tests of the Barguzin’s launch systems were carried out at the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in north-west Russia earlier this month, the Interfax news agency cited a defense industry source as saying.
The news came after Nato and Moscow engaged in a war of words over the Kremlin’s decision to also send Bastion missiles to Kaliningrad, Russia’s exclave on the Baltic Sea.
Nato accused Russia of “aggressive military posturing” over the move. The Kremlin hit back angrily, saying the deployment was a response to the Nato missile shield in Europe.