TOKYO (The Japan News/ANN) - Vessels of the Russian military have been increasingly active in seas around Japan.
According to the Defence Ministry, the number of confirmed Russian military vessels sailing in those sea areas has been on the rise since 2006, when the Ground, Maritime and Air Self-Defence Forces (MSDF) began to be operated in an integrated manner. It is assumed that Russia aims to secure its influence in the Far East region.
The Self-Defence Forces are struggling with deployment of destroyers that have also been in heavy operation for warning and surveillance on moves of North Korea and China.
A senior officer of the Maritime Self-Defence Force (SDF) explained: “After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Russian military had been short of fuel and ammunition, and thus its activities had been stagnant. But backed by the country’s economic growth, the military has been regaining momentum as if making a V-shaped recovery.”
The MSDF officer expressed a sense of caution, and said that the purpose of the sailing of the military vessels is assumed to be for drills and surveillance activities.
According to the ministry’s Joint Staff office, which conducts warning and surveillance activities around Japan by operating the three SDF forces in an integrated manner, the number of cases in which sailings of Russian military vessels near Japan were confirmed and made public was four in 2006 when the then Defence Agency first established the Joint Staff.
The number of the cases increased to double digits in 2009, and then rose further to 19 in 2014 and 25 in 2015. The figure in 2016 hit the highest ever at 27.
The Russian military vessels have been active mostly around Hokkaido, and the number of the cases in those sea areas was 18 in 2016. There were nine such cases near the Kyushu and Okinawa regions.
In June 2016, there was an incident in which a Russian destroyer sailed close to the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture.
The number of Russian military vessels in each case has also seen an upward trend. On Sept. 9, 2011, 24 vessels passed through the Soya Strait, one of the highest number of vessels to do so since the end of the Cold War.
Later, on July 1, 2012, 26 Russian military vessels, including a cruiser, passed through the Soya Strait and entered the Sea of Okhotsk.
Concerning military vessels of other countries that have also been active in sea areas around Japan, China has attracted attention in recent years as the country claims sovereignty over the Senkaku Islands and has repeated provocative actions.
But a senior official of the Defence Ministry warned: “Though Russia’s military power has been reduced from the peak time, the country deploys large-scale military forces, including nuclear weapons, in the Far East. We assume that the Russian military is trying to improve its capabilities through drills, and we need to closely monitor its moves.”
Little force to spare
Ten years have passed since the Defence Ministry was established on Jan. 9, 2007. Currently, the MSDF possesses about 50 destroyers that can closely monitor other countries’ military activities from the sea surface. The destroyers conduct surveillance activities.
However, the subjects of the warning and surveillance activities have steadily increased. They include China, which continues ocean advancements in a high-handed manner; North Korea, which continues developments of ballistic missiles; and Russia, which is reviving its military power.
But it is not possible to dispatch all MSDF destroyers on missions at the same time, because they need to receive regular maintenance at docks.
A senior MSDF officer said, “Our destroyers have been fully operated, and there is little capacity to spare.”
The officer said that as destroyers are in short supply, the MSDF is in a situation in which it must use mine-sweeping ships and missile craft, though their surveillance capabilities are inferior.
In November last year, it was decided to decrease the number of MSDF destroyers dispatched to anti-piracy patrols off Somalia in Africa from two to one.
Another MSDF senior officer said, “Circumstances around Japan have become so severe that the government has to scale down an activity that contributes to the international community.”
Chinese expansion the cause
Prof. Tomohide Murai of Tokyo International University, who is an expert in international politics, said: “The Russian military has been increasingly active in response to the activities of China, which is expanding its naval power in Asia. Russia places importance on the Sea of Okhotsk as the entrance and exit gateway for ‘the Northern Sea Route,’ which connects Asia and Europe over the shortest distance. Russia also aims to secure its influence in the sea area. Though the SDF, which has been busy in responding to the Chinese Navy, faces more difficult situations, the joint effort of deterring China by Japan and the United States can indirectly result in deterring Russia eventually.”
■ Russian military
According to the defence white paper, Russia deploys about 20 major surface vessels and about 15 nuclear-powered submarines around Japan. These vessels are based in Vladivostok and other places. One Russian Army division is stationed on the Kunashiri and Etorofu islands, which are parts of the northern territories. Before the Japan-Russia summit meeting in December last year, it was revealed that antiship missile units are deployed on the two islands.