November 23, 2016 / 9:56 AM / 3 years ago

Kremlin says missile deployment shouldn't hurt Russia-Japan peace talks

MOSCOW (Reuters) - The deployment of Russian missile systems on the Kurile islands should not influence efforts to settle the long-running territorial dispute between Moscow and Tokyo over the islands, the Kremlin said on Wednesday.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) meets with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Sochi, Russia, May 6, 2016. REUTERS/Pavel Golovkin/Pool

Russian media reported on Tuesday that the Bastion and Bal anti-ship missile systems were now in operation on the Kurile islands, an archipelago in the Pacific Ocean over which Russia and Japan have staked rival claims for 70 years.

Officials in Moscow and Tokyo say they are making a renewed push to resolve the dispute, and a planned visit to Japan in December by Russian President Vladimir Putin is now the focus for those efforts.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Russian defence ministry without doubt had grounds for deploying the missile systems, without giving any details.

“But at the same time from our point of view it should not in any way influence the centripetal trend which exists in our bilateral relations with Tokyo,” Peskov said on a conference call with reporters.

He said that trend existed “in terms of the careful preparations for the forthcoming visit of President Putin to Japan, and in terms of continuing contacts to develop our bilateral ties, especially in the economic sphere, and negotiations on the peace deal issue.”

The Bastion is a mobile defense system armed with two anti-ship missiles with a range of up to 300 km (188 miles). It has also been deployed in Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014. The Bal anti-ship missile has a similar range.

The dispute over the islands, known as the Kuriles in Russia and the Northern Territories in Japan, has strained relations between the two countries since World War Two, when Soviet forces occupied four islands at the southern end of the chain.

The dispute is so acrimonious that Moscow and Tokyo have still not signed a formal peace treaty ending World War Two hostilities.

When Putin visits in December, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is scheduled to host the Russian leader in his hometown of Nagato in southern Japan. Abe said earlier this year he hoped the venue would create a relaxed atmosphere conducive to progress on the peace talks.

Reporting by Christian Lowe; Editing by Maria Kiselyova and Raissa Kasolowsky

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