Missile Deployment to Kuril Islands: Russia Strengthens Coastal Defenses
Alex GORKA | 06.12.2016 | WORLD / Russia & CIS

Missile Deployment to Kuril Islands: Russia Strengthens Coastal Defenses

Russia has deployed the Bastion and Bal coastal defense missile systems on the Kuril Islands.

On November 22, the Russian Pacific Fleet's Boyevaya Vakhta (Combat Watch) newspaper reported that the systems installed on the islands of Iturup and Kunashir have entered into service, ensuring effective protection from landing operations and carrier-based aircraft strikes.

The Bastion fires the supersonic homing Onyx anti-ship missile designed to defend more than 600 kilometers of coastline against surface targets. It is able to operate under conditions of intense fire and radio-electronic countermeasures. The «fire-and-forget» missiles home in on their targets independently without any additional input from the firing crew. One fully-loaded unit carries 36 missiles.

Recently, the system has entered service with the all the operational fleets and strengthened coastal defenses in Crimea and Syria.

The Bal is armed with subsonic Kh-35 anti-ship missiles flying at low altitude and capable of striking sea and ground targets at the range of around 130 km, including ships with the displacement of up to 5,000 tons. It is also part of coastal defense in the operational fleets’ areas of responsibility.

Russia also plans to station new-generation Eleron-3 unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) on the islands. The drones are capable of carrying up to 0.5 kilogram of cargo, which can include TV-, IR- and photo-cameras, as well as a radio repeater. The 3.5 kilogram aircraft can fly in both autonomous and radio command modes. The UAVs have been tested in the Arctic and Syria.

The upgrades of the 18th machine gun artillery division responsible for the defense of the Kuril Islands also include re-equipping it with upgraded weapons systems, assigning a tank battalion on a permanent basis, and placing PantsirTor, and Buk air defense systems, while providing infrastructure for the S-400 to be deployed there in times of crisis.

The Navy is studying plans to build a naval base on the islands. The service has been increasing its exercise tempo in the region with particular focus paid to honing the skills of attack helicopters crews. The air component of the islands’ garrison will include Ka-52K naval attack helicopters originally ordered for the Mistral ships. The rotary wing aircraft will be based on the Kamchatka Peninsula and deploy to the islands on a rotational basis.

Russian President Vladimir Putin will visit Japan on December 15-16. The agenda includes the dispute over the Kuril Islands. Moscow believes that the deployment of Russian missile systems should not influence efforts to settle the long-running territorial dispute between Moscow and Tokyo over this territory.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Russian defense ministry without doubt had grounds for deploying the missile systems, without giving any details. According to him, the deployment should not harm the relations with Japan before the visit, which includes discussions on the status of the islands and prospects for signing a peace treaty between the two countries.

In his latest statement on the issue made at the Eastern Economic Forum held in Vladivostok in early September, Vladimir Putin defined Russia’s position. According to him, even though Russian authorities saw signing a peace treaty with Japan as a priority, the territorial dispute over the Kuril Islands would not be subject to revision. «We are not talking about some exchange or some sale», the president explained. «We are talking about finding a solution where neither of the parties would feel defeated or a loser».

The president stated that «we do not trade in territories», but Russia «would very much like to find a solution to this problem with our Japanese friends». If it «can reach a similarly high level of trust» with Japan as it now enjoys with China «then we can find some sort of compromise», Mr. Putin noted.

The steps aimed at strengthening Russia’s coastal defenses in the Pacific are part of the plans to develop military infrastructure on Sakhalin Island, the Kuril Island chain and in the Arctic zone by 2020.

The measures are taken against the background of tensions running high in the region. Russia and China are concerned over the US increasing military presence in Asia Pacific and the emerging arms race in the region to involve its allies. The ballistic missile defense (BMD) plans pose a special threat to the regional security. The US plans to deploy THAAD BMD system in South Korea. It makes Russia take countermeasures.

In view of the growing tensions as NATO intensifies its activities in Europe, Russia has also strengthened its coastal defenses in the Northern and the Baltic seas, as well as the Arctic. It is important to note that boosting defenses on the Kuril Islands is not an isolated event but a part of broader plans to enhance coastal defenses of Russian territory everywhere.

These measures are a response to the growing threats and are not aimed at anyone specifically. The systems stationed on Russian soil do not intimidate neighbors. After all, coastal defense missile systems are defensive, not offensive, weapons. No attack against other countries can be carried out with the help of coastal defense sites.

Unlike the US, in Asia-Pacific Russia does not deploy aircraft carrier strike group in the proximity of other states, it has no Army and Marine Corps contingents stationed in the forward areas, it has no vast defense infrastructure, especially air bases to host first strike capable aircraft, across the Pacific Ocean and it does not install BMD sites near other states’ borders. The only thing Russia does is taking steps to guarantee its security and they are limited to its national territory. Any state has a right for legitimate defense.