The Russian Defence Ministry has released footage of a pair of Tupolev Tu-95MS strategic bombers flying over international waters in the Sea of Japan and being intercepted and trailed by what appear to be at least two South Korean fighter planes before returning to base.
The flight was part of the first-ever Russian-Chinese joint long-range aviation patrol in the Asia-Pacific region, with the planes flying over the Sea of Japan and the East China Sea.
Although the flights were preplanned and did not violate the airspace of any third country, they prompted South Korean officials to voice an angry protest, and claims that the Russian air group, which also included a Beriev A-50 airborne early warning and control aircraft, had “violated” South Korean airspace. Seoul warned that the military would respond with “much tougher measures” if the incident was repeated.
The Russian Defence Ministry disputed Seoul’s allegations, saying its planes operated in full compliance with international regulations, and accused the South Korean jets, which reportedly included by F-15 and F-16 fighters, of “unprofessional” manoeuvres which jeopardised the Russian planes’ safety.
The South Korean military claimed its jets had fired hundreds of warning shots and flares to force the Russian planes to alter course, but the MoD denied these allegations. No warning shots or flares could be seen in the short clip released Tuesday.
The incident reportedly took place near a series of disputed islets in the Sea of Japan, which both South Korea and Japan lay claim to. Their disputed status prompted Tokyo to lodge a formal protest against both Moscow and Seoul. Earlier, Japan’s Self-Defence Forces said they too had scrambled aircraft to intercept the supposedly errant Russian aircraft.
South Korea expanded its so-called ‘Air Defence Identification Zone’ (ADIZ) in late 2013, sparking regional tensions between Seoul, Beijing and Tokyo. In response to South Korea’s actions Tuesday, the Chinese Foreign Ministry stressed that South Korea’s ADIZ was not territorial airspace, meaning that all countries enjoy the freedom to move through the area peacefully.