Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin have agreed to expand cooperation in the Kuril Islands, but Putin said this week U.S. military buildup could take place if Japan gains sovereignty over the disputed territory. File Pool Photo by Alexander Zemlianichenko/EPA
June 2 (UPI) -- A statement from Russian President Vladimir Putin about U.S. military buildup in the disputed Kuril Islands is raising concerns in Japan, despite plans in Tokyo to increase economic cooperation in the territories.
Putin said Thursday at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum Russians should be prepared for increased U.S. presence along Russia's eastern border, if Japan regains control of the Kuril Islands.
"Concerning the theoretical possibility of the U.S. troop deployment on these [Kuril] islands if we assume that they would someday come under the sovereignty of Japan. Well, yes, this possibility exists," Putin said.
"It follows from an agreement and...signed protocols...They don't show them to us, but we generally know their content...There is a possibility of U.S. troop deployment on these territories," he added.
The statement from the Russian leader marks the first time he has publicly voiced concern over U.S. military maneuvers in Japan in connection to the Kuril Islands.
The Russian-held territories, also claimed by Japan, were recently at the center of a joint agreement that would allow Japan to invest in infrastructure and provide healthcare services for Russian nationals on the four islands.
But a Japanese study of the islands was postponed in May for logistical reasons. Eiichi Hasegawa, a special adviser to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Wednesday the survey will take place in June.
Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun reported the Putin statement could make it more difficult to resolve the territorial dispute between the two countries.
Russia and Japan never signed a peace treaty after the four islets in the Kuril archipelago fell under Soviet control at the end of World War II.