“The U.S. global ballistic missile defense poses a deep risk to the security of the region,” declared Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Monday after meeting with Japanese officials in Tokyo.
The Associated Press describes Lavrov’s visit as the first “two-plus-two” meetings of foreign and defense ministers between Japan and Tokyo since Russia annexed Crimea. Japan has participated in sanctions against Russia for that action.
Lavrov specifically denounced the THAAD missile system America is installing in South Korea as a “response completely out of proportion” to the North Korean threat. He said the United States was “pumping arms into the region.”
Tokyo has been thinking about asking the United States to pump a THAAD missile system into Japan, especially since the recent launch of four ballistic missiles towards the Japanese coast stoked fears that Pyongyang may be capable of “swarm attacks” or “saturation launches” that would overwhelm Japan’s missile defenses.
One of the arguments against THAAD missile shield deployment is that North Korea might be able to fire a dozen or more missiles at once and overwhelm even the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense System. That would make THAAD acquisition disruptive to Japanese relations with Russia and China, both of which believe the system is ultimately intended to limit their military options, without gaining any real security against North Korean aggression.
Lavrov is well aware that political turmoil in South Korea gives Russia an opening to pressure Seoul into canceling THAAD deployment. Odds are that the replacement for impeached South Korean President Park Geun-hye will be less enthusiastic about the system than she was.
“At the end of the day, if the reality unfolds in a way that South Korea’s national security and the economy were damaged because of the THAAD, not because of the North Korea issue, then it’s not really a rational situation, is it?” Choi Jong-kun, an adviser to front-running presidential candidate Moon Jae-in, said over the weekend. The economic damage Choi referred to is coming mostly from an enraged China. Sergey Lavrov’s comments in Tokyo are a warning of national security damage that will be heard clearly in Seoul.
The Associated Press notes that Russia and Japan had one other lingering bit of business to discuss at the “two-plus-two” meeting: World War II isn’t over yet.
It still isn’t over because no major breakthrough on the fate of the disputed Kuril island chain was announced after Lavrov’s trip to Tokyo. The disposition of these islands has prevented Japan and Russia from signing a peace treaty and formally concluding the Second World War.
On the bright side, Russian media reported on Monday that Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida expressed a willingness to make travel to the islands easier for Russian citizens, and Russia has floated similar proposals with respect to the Japanese.
However, Kishida also voiced concerns about Russian military activity in the south Kuril Islands, and official conveyed those concerns to Lavrov at the meeting. Specifically, Japan is worried about Russia’s deployment of coastal missile systems.