Russia’s Militarization of the Kuril Islands

Overshadowed by the invasion of Ukraine, Russia’s recent and rapid militarization of a group of islands claimed by Japan has flown largely under the radar. Taken by Russia at the end of World War Two, Kunashiri, Etorofu, Shikotan, and the Habomai islands of the Kuril Island chain, which Japan claims as its “Northern Territories,” have  complicated relations between the two states for decades.

Less than a decade ago it seemed at least some of the islands might be returned to Japan. Throughout the late prime minister Abe Shinzo’s tenure, Japan continually worked to boost Russian relations in hopes of fostering the good will to reach an agreement returning the closest islands. Japan cooperated on local economic development, joint tourism projects and diplomatic talks.

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