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Asia-Pacific

Russia may send French-built warships to Kuril islands

media Mistral helicopter carrier in Saint Petersburg AFP / Kirill Kudryavtsev

Russia may send one or two of the warships it is buying from France to help protect the Kuril chain of islands, which are the centre of a bitter dispute with Japan.

“We do not exclude that one or possibly two Mistrals will be sent to the Pacific Fleet, including for the purpose of addressing security issues in the Kuril Islands,” Chief of Staff General Nikolai Makarov told Interfax news agency on Friday.

Russia has signed a contract to purchase two Mistral helicopter carriers from France. Some of France’s Nato allies have criticised the deal.

Japan recalled its ambassador to Moscow after Russian President Dmitry Medvedev visited the islands in November.

Japan summoned the Russian ambassador to Japan for an explanation. The Kremlin in response summoned Japan's ambassador to Moscow.

The islands were taken over by the Soviet army towards the end of World War II.

The dispute has prevented the signature of a Russian-Japanese peace treaty formally ending World War II hostilities. It has also kept Japanese investments to a minimum in Russia's far east.

Tokyo says its claim on the southernmost four islands is backed by the fact that the Soviet Union never signed a 1951 peace treaty formally establishing post-war borders in the Pacific.

Russia's Mistral announcement comes less than a month after Medvedev vowed to step up his country's defence of the islands.

A spokesman for the Japanese foreign minister said during the 11 February talks in Moscow that a Russian decision to send Mistrals to the Kurils would be treated as a hostile act.

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