Saturday, October 1, 2011

01/10 Russia makes clear its military ambitions / Activities in Far East show desire to boost ability to compete with Japan-U.S. alliance, China

Takashi Sadahiro / Yomiuri Shimbun Correspondent

MOSCOW--Russia has been increasing its military activities in the Far East, including in seas near Japanese territories, with the apparent goal of rebuilding combat capabilities that were diminished following the breakup of the Soviet Union.

The activities are also designed to restore military balance with the U.S.-Japan alliance, and as a response to China's military buildup, according to military analysts.

With the return of Vladimir Putin, who prefers a strong-arm policy, to the role of president seen as all but certain, Russia is trying to establish itself as a naval superpower.

In late September, Russian Tu-160 and Tu-95 strategic bombers conducted cruise-missile exercises on the Kamchatka Peninsula.

Also in September, the Russian Pacific Fleet, the headquarters of which is in Vladivostok, moved 24 ships to the peninsula via the Soya Strait and conducted a major exercise in which about 10,000 troops participated.

On Thursday, 12 Russian Navy vessels passed through the Soya Strait, apparently returning from the naval exercise, to the Sea of Japan.

The obvious goal of the series of military activities is to boost Russia's ability to contend with Japan and the United States.

On Sept. 8, two Russian strategic bombers flew around the Japanese archipelago. During their suspected reconnaissance flight, the two bombers went very close to intruding into Japan's airspace, and even performed midair refueling to the west of the northern territories, four Japanese islands occupied by Russia.

Analysts say the bombers' flight was probably meant as a provocation to observe how the administration of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, launched six days earlier, would respond.

Russia has also been working to maintain its nuclear deterrent against the United States, with measures that include the planned deployment of state-of-art strategic nuclear submarines within the year.

Although top Russian officials do not acknowledge it publicly, the country is keenly monitoring China's military buildup.

Russia is planning major upgrading of cruisers that will be equipped with ship-to-ship missiles and deployed with the Pacific Fleet, apparently in response to China's naval buildup.

A recent report by the Strategic Studies Institute of the U.S. Army War College also concludes that Russia's expansion of its military activities in the Far East is aimed at China.

In a press conference in Washington on Tuesday, U.S. Pacific Command Commander Adm. Robert Willard said he and Self-Defense Forces Chief of Staff Ryoichi Oriki had discussed Russia's military activities near Japan, indicating the United States' considerable interest in the situation.

Russia's military activities are expected to gain more momentum after Putin is returned to the top job in a presidential election scheduled for March.

Putin signaled his intention to run for president in a speech last Saturday, during which he also said, "In the next five to 10 years we must rearm our navy and army in full."

Putin has recently been emphasizing the importance of "securing Russia's national interests" in the Arctic region. He envisages a plan that involves posting two military brigades in the region.

A military buildup in areas from the Pacific Ocean to the Arctic will likely be a top priority for his administration.

For now, Russia's military capabilities pose no immediate threat to Japan or the United States.

In the Kamchatka Peninsula exercises, Russian forces encountered a series of problems, such as missiles missing their targets by significant distances.

"It'll take 20 years for Russia to catch up with the United States in terms of military equipment and operations," a military analyst said.

Yomiuri Washington Correspondent Kyoko Yamaguchi contributed to this article.


Japan to study security impact

By Satoshi Ogawa and Shuhei Kuromi / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writers

The government plans to analyze the increase in Russian military activities in the Far East to determine what impact they will have on Japan, government sources said.

"The military actions were taken in relation to China's naval buildup and the United States. They are not aimed primarily at Japan," a senior Foreign Ministry official said.

However, the government will analyze the impact of the military activities on Japan's security as well as its defense system from a long-range viewpoint with the cooperation of the United States, the sources said.

Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba complained to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov during their first telephone conversation on Sept. 9, a day after two Russian strategic bombers flew around Japan.

"In regard to the activities of Russian military planes in the last several days, the Japanese people are very suspicious about Russia's intentions. We ask your country to refrain from such actions," Gemba was quoted as telling Lavrov.

Concerning its diplomacy toward Russia, the administration of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda plans to expand economic cooperation with Moscow in the hope that this will lead to a solution of the northern territories issue.

However, the strategic value of the Russian-occupied northern territories may increase because of the military importance that country attaches to the Far East.

Therefore, the senior ministry official said, "The Russian military buildup in the Far East region is unfavorable [to Japan]."

The new National Defense Program Guidelines compiled in December last year came up with the "dynamic defense force" concept, in which the Self-Defense Forces will beef up early warning and surveillance activities in the Nansei Islands that extend from Kagoshima Prefecture to the Okinawa archipelago and increase the mobility of its troops.

"With its increase in defense spending, the Russian military is upgrading its equipment, including midair refueling planes. We need to monitor its activities over the long term," a senior Defense Ministry official said.

(Oct. 1, 2011)

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