Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov shakes hands with Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono. Photo: Pool via Reuters/Nicolas Datiche

Visiting Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has warned Japan that deploying a US land-based missile defense system could jeopardize talks between Moscow and Tokyo on the possible return of Russian-held islands off northern Japan.

Lavrov was referring to Japanese plans to introduce the US-made Aegis Ashore anti-missile system – the land-based version of the weapon used by the US and Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force.

“I want to confirm that security issues concerning this region (the Russian Far East) are of vital interest to us,” Lavrov was quoted by the Asahi Shimbun as saying in a joint news conference on March 21 with Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono following their bilateral talks in Tokyo.

“If the United States deploys the missile defense system in the Asian region, it will become an issue that is directly related to Russia’s security,” Lavrov added.

“Implicit in the remark was Russia’s intention to continue raising the (anti-missile) issue in negotiations with Japan,” Asahi said, alluding to negotiations on returning the so-called Northern Territories.

The Northern Territories, also known as the Kuril Islands, is a group of islands off eastern Hokkaido that were occupied by Soviet forces at the end of World War II but are still claimed by Japan.

All the islands are currently under Russian jurisdiction. Japan claims the two southernmost large islands (Iturup and Kunashir) as part of its territory, as well as Shikotan and the Habomai islets, which has led to the ongoing Kuril Islands dispute. The disputed islands are known in Japan as the country’s “Northern Territories.”

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