Russian Coast Guard Involved in Dispute with Japanese.

Another island territorial dispute, and as usual, a coast guard is in the middle of it.

The Russian Coast Guard denied Japanese media reports on Wednesday that it had opened fire on a Japanese fishing vessel off the disputed South Kuril islands. (The Russian Coast Guard did shoot into a Japanese fishing vessel about a year ago.)

There has been a lot of heat in the Japanese press lately about the dispute over the four islands in the Kuril Chain that Russia (in the form of the Soviet Union) seized from Japan at the end of WWII. Because of the issue, Japan and Russia are nominally still at war. The Russians contend the Islands are part of Russia now. The Japanese would like them back.

This became a hot topic last November when Medvedev visited Kunashir, second-largest of the four islands. Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan called Medvedev’s visit to Kunashir an “inexcusable rudeness,” sparking an angry reaction from Moscow.

Meanwhile the Russians are fortifying the islands and rebuilding their Pacific Fleet (and here).

A serious clash is unlikely. Motives are questionable. The Russians seem to believe the Japanese are pressing the issue as smoke screen for government failures, and there is some speculation the Russian build-up is really aimed at China.

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