Four large Russian amphibious transports passed westbound between two of the major islands of Japan last week, possibly carrying troops and equipment to Ukraine, according to the Japanese Ministry of Defense.
A ministry tweet on Wednesday showed one of the ships carrying what appear to be military trucks.
— 防衛省・自衛隊 (@ModJapan_jp) March 16, 2022
Russian maneuvers near Japan are “in concert with its actions in Ukraine,” Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi said, according to the report.
That country’s naval activity is a sensitive issue for the Japanese.
Last month, the Russian military engaged in major exercises in the Sea of Okhotsk to the north of Japan.
Russia is “demonstrating that its military can operate in both the east and the west,” Kishi said.
The transports spotted Thursday sailed from the Pacific Ocean to the Sea of Japan through Tsugaru Strait between the Japanese islands of Honshu and Hokkaido, Nikkei Asia reported.
Japan’s Defense Ministry has said that it spotted four large Russian amphibious warships sailing through a strait in northeastern Japan as they traveled west, possibly toward Europe. https://t.co/ZhUe4biTwp
— The Japan Times (@japantimes) March 17, 2022
Earlier last week, six Russian vessels were 80 miles southeast of Cape Soya, the northernmost point of Hokkaido, the report said. The Maritime Self-Defense Force of Japan spotted among them three submarines and a destroyer.
The vessels then passed through the Soya Strait between Japan and Russia’s Sakhalin Island a few hours before a Russian weapons transport ship went through Tsugaru Strait. On March 10-11, 10 Russian navy ships sailed through the Soya Strait, according to Nikkei Asia.
By being able to move ships stationed in Vladivostok to the Sea of Okhotsk and to the Pacific Ocean, Russia considers passage through the Tsugaru and Soya straits critical to its eastern strategies.
And eastern Russian forces are now apparently being drawn into the country’s invasion of Ukraine.
“Russia is increasingly seeking to generate additional troops to bolster and replace its personnel losses in Ukraine,” the U.K. Defense Ministry said, according to the Financial Times. As a result, Russia is securing forces from “as far afield as its Eastern Military District, Pacific Fleet and Armenia.”
A senior U.S. defense official confirmed Russia’s consideration of reinforcements in Ukraine, Nikkei Asia said.
Meanwhile, Russia on Thursday said it was testing S-300 surface-to-air missiles on Etorufu and Kunashiri, two of four islands north of Hokkaido under Russian control but disputed by Japan.
During the Cold War, Japan was concerned about a Soviet invasion of Hokkaido. It later turned its attention to threats from China and North Korea.
This year, Japan was expected to focus its defense strategy on Okinawa and its other Nansei Islands stretching from southern Japan toward Taiwan.
Given increased Russian naval operations in the area, however, there is some talk in the Defense Ministry of rethinking its strategies.
“Japan is clearly against Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, which constitutes a blatant violation of international law,” the Defense Ministry said in a March 8 statement as it announced Japan was sending helmets, bulletproof vests and more to the Ukraine defense effort.