Japan’s defense ministry reported that it had tracked four large Russian vessels transporting troops along a strait north to the country, and headed west.
Officials suggested that the vessels might have charted a course to Europe based upon their trajectory. Two ships passed by at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, and two more at 7 a.m. on Wednesday.
Photos published by the Defense Ministry showed a vessel that was used to land expeditionary forces in amphibious assaults. According to The Mainichi, one vessel had military trucks on its deck.
According to a Defense Ministry spokesperson, “it is possible” that the four ships could be heading for Ukraine. Through the Tsuruga Strait, the vessels crossed the Pacific Ocean to reach the Sea of Japan.
A spokesperson for the Russian government stated that it was unusual for Russian ships so close to Japanese territory to pass through the Strait.
Japan has recently reaffirmed its claim to the Kuril Islands, which were a source of contention between Russia and Japan.
Russia took the islands, which were formerly part Hokkaido Prefecture at the end World War II. Japan has worked for decades to secure the islands again. Recently, Japan stated that the islands are “primordially Japanese”, and called Russia’s occupation “occupation against international order.”
Japan supported Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and has enacted strong sanctions against Russia. Most notably, it joined the U.S. allies and European allies in removing Russian banks from the SWIFT international financial system in February.
Japan also frozen assets of President Vladimir Putin and other high ranking Russian officials, while sending $100 million in humanitarian aid to Ukraine.