Defence of the Kuril Islands
Defence of the Kuril Islands is for the most part the responsibility of the Russian Ground Forces' 18th Machine Gun Artillery Division, which is stationed on the islands. Substantial improvements of the Kuril defences were announced by President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev in February 2011 as a deterrent against Japanese action. The move followed the heating up of the Kuril Islands dispute in early 2011.
The Kuril Islands are a disputed archipelago in the Pacific Ocean. They are under the governance of the Russian Federation, but Japan has claimed the southernmost islands are Japanese territory. The islands are important both economically and militarily due to their abundance of natural resources and their strategic location. The archipelago is crucial for Russia's defenses because their straits give the Russian Pacific Fleet access to the Pacific Ocean, while other straits are under control of foreign countries or underdeveloped. If Russia were to lose control of the islands, it would also lose the ability to control the access of foreign vessels to the Sea of Okhotsk.
The main responsibility for the defence of the Kuril Islands falls to the 18th Machine Gun Artillery Division of the Eastern Military District. The headquarters of the Division are located in Goryachiye Klyuchi on the Iturup Island. It also has garrisons on Kunashir Island and Shikotan Island. The 18th Artillery Division is the only division-strength military unit remaining in the Armed Forces of Russia, along with the 201st Military Base in Tajikistan. All other divisions have been transformed to brigades, following the Russian military reform. The division's aging infrastructure is in need of overhaul. There are also Border Guard Service troops stationed on the islands.
According to RIA Novosti military analyst Ilya Kramnik, the 18th Artillery Division is unlikely to be able to defend the Islands by itself from an attack. In case of attack by Japan, the Russian forces on the Kuril Islands are expected to hold out for only one to four days unless they receive support.
Russia in planning to start construction of two new military posts in 2013. By late 2011 the islands airfields were being refurbished.
In February 2011, President Dmitry Medvedev ordered advanced weapons to be deployed on the Kuril Islands, "in order to ensure the security of the islands as an integral part of Russia". According to a military source interviewed by Russia Today, as part of the reinforcements, the 18th Division may be upgraded to a modern motorized infantry brigade. The division is to receive an air defense brigade, possibly armed with S-400 SAM systems, according to the Russian General Staff. The Russian military has also announced intention to deploy the new Mistral class amphibious assault ships, and one Steregushchy class corvette in its Pacific Fleet to protect the islands. Russia signed a deal with France in January 2011 to buy four such vessels.
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