Japan on March 11, may help overcome the acute crisis in its relations
with Tokyo over the South Kurile Islands. President Dmitry Medvedev
promptly telephoned Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan to express his
condolences and offered support. Russian emergency workers were sent to
help earthquake survivors and to offer advice in dealing with the
Fukushima nuclear power reactor disaster. Moscow agreed to increase
shipments of oil and liquefied natural gas to help Japan overcome energy
shortages caused by nuclear power shutdowns. Russian diplomats
expressed hope that the outpouring of sympathy by the Russian public may
help improve relations and lessen tensions (Kommersant, March 14).
Moscow needs Japanese capital and technology to develop its Far East and
is keen to improve relations while sidelining the territorial dispute
over the Kuriles. Sources in the General Staff have been quoted as
saying that Russia plans to deploy its newest weapons to the Kuriles:
the S-400 anti-aircraft missiles, Bastion-P mobile coastal anti-ship
cruise missile systems, Tor-M2 short-range anti-aircraft missiles and
Mi-28N attack helicopters (Interfax, March 1). The report seems to be
largely exaggerated, since such a deployment does not make much
strategic sense and the Russian military does not physically have these
weapons for deployment in the Kuriles.
Russia today has only four S-400 systems or “divisions,” each having
eight mobile launchers with four rocket tubes, radars and command
centers. The S-400 “division” is the smallest deployable tactical unit
of the antiaircraft system. Only two S-400 “divisions” are at present
operational, forming one anti-aircraft missile regiment. The second
two-divisional regiment is in the process of being formed. Both S-400
regiments will be deployed near Moscow. By 2020 Moscow hopes to have 28
S-400 regiments or 56 “divisions” (VPK, March 2).
Russia at present has some 15 partially operational Mi-28N helicopters –
the Russian equivalent of the US Apache Longbow (Vedomosti, March 10).
All of the Mi-28N’s are deployed in the North Caucasus, where there is a
distinct possibility of renewed large-scale armed conflict with local
insurgents, with Georgia or an intervention into a possible
Armenian-Azeri conflict over Karabakh. Last month a Mi-28N crashed
during a training flight because of engine failure, killing a decorated
helicopter pilot, a veteran of wars with Georgia and in the North
Caucasus Lieutenant-Colonel Andrei Glyantsev (RIA Novosti, February 15).
Since then all Mi-28N have been grounded.
Russia currently has some 120 Tor anti-aircraft complexes, but these are
predominantly Tor-M1, produced in the 1980’s and early 1990’s. There is
only handful of the newer Tor-M2 version (RIA Novosti, August 8, 2010).
Russia has only three deployed Bastion-P complexes armed with the
long-range supersonic cruise missile Yakhont. Each complex has four
mobile launchers with two missiles each together with command and
control centers. Last January these three Bastion-P batteries were fully
deployed on the North Caucasus coast of the Black Sea, forming the 11th
separate rocket/artillery brigade of the Black Sea Fleet (RIA Novosti,
January 18). One Bastion-P complex has been delivered to Vietnam. Syria
has a contract to receive Bastion-P, but the delivery, apparently, has
not yet been completed (Kommersant, February 24). Sources connected to
the Russian arms export industry have told Jamestown, the postponement
of the delivery of Bastion-P to Syria is the result of a decision made
in 2008 after the war with Georgia and the deployment of NATO and US
warships in the Black Sea for exercises and delivery of humanitarian aid
to Batumi. Medvedev and Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, traditionally
spend much time in Sochi on the Black Sea coast and were apparently
disturbed by the Western naval presence, so the Bastion-P was diverted
from Syria to arm the 11th brigade to deter Western navies in case there
is another armed conflict in the region. It took years to build and
deploy the 11th brigade, so the Kuriles will hardly receive anything
anytime soon, if ever.
The S-400 and the Bastion-P need roads to be land-mobile to avoid
attack. On the Kuriles there is little space and practically no traffic
or roads. The S-400 and Bastion-P would be sitting ducks very close to
Japanese territory and easy to destroy.
Russia’s top general told Jamestown on condition of anonymity, the
General Staff does not plan to deploy either the S-300 or S-400 in the
Kuriles: “As military professionals we are preparing to face any
eventuality, but do not consider a full-scale amphibious assault to
regain the territory a serious threat.” Instead, a landing of unarmed
Japanese civilian protesters that may set up a tent camp on some South
Kurile beach to organize a sit-in to demand the return of the disputed
lands is considered possible and the Russian garrison is preparing for
this. Teargas and water cannon may be deployed to the South Kuriles.
There are indeed plans to send S-400 to the Pacific region, but not the
Kuriles – to Kamchatka. Under direct orders from Putin, a new model base
has been built in Kamchatka, in Velyuchensk and Rybachy close to the
regional capital Petropavlovsk-Kamchatski to house Russia’s newest
strategic nuclear submarines of the Borei class with the Bulava SS-NX-30
ballistic missile. The deployment of the Borei nuclear submarines makes
Petropavlovsk as important a strategic point as Moscow, St. Petersburg
and the Kola Peninsula, which warrants the early deployment of the S-400
system to defend against a possible US air and cruise attack. The South
Kuriles are in fact part of the peripheral defense of the nuclear
submarine force in Kamchatka – long-range radar, sonar and other
electronic intelligence-gathering equipment will be deployed to monitor
US/Japanese air and naval activities.
Petropavlovsk-Kamchatski is beyond the reach of China’s air force and
navy. Last October the commander of the Pacific Fleet, Admiral
Konstantin Sidenko, was appointed commander of the Eastern Military
District also known as Joint Strategic Command “East.” Russia’s
territory has been divided into Joint Strategic Commands East, West,
South and Center that unite air, sea and land forces, but only “East”
has a naval officer in charge – the first to command a military district
in Russia’s history. This is direct material evidence the main threat
in the region is seen coming from the sea, from the US, as during the
Cold War and not from the Chinese landmass.