South Korean fighter jets fired hundreds of warning shots at a Russian military aircraft after it entered South Korean airspace on Tuesday morning.
The Korean military said a Russian A-50 early warning and control aircraft flew into territorial skies, known as the Korean Air Defense Identification Zone (KADIZ), twice in the space of an hour just after 9 a.m. local time (7 p.m. ET Monday).
South Korea claims one of the aircraft flew over Dokdo, a disputed island that is occupied by South Korea but also claimed by Japan, which calls it Takeshima.
The flights were in breach of international treaties, according to South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff. F-15 and F-16 fighter jets were scrambled. In total, 360 warning shots were fired at the Russian plane.
“We are taking the incident very seriously,” Chung Eui Yong, South Korea’s top security adviser, said Tuesday. “If such an act is repeated, we will take far stronger measures.”
It’s the first time a Russian military aircraft has violated Korean airspace, the South Korean Ministry of National Defense said in a statement Tuesday.
The Kremlin has not said what its aircraft was doing flying near the disputed island, but the flight fits a pattern of the Kremlin attempting to stoke tensions in the region, and it appears to have worked.
Japan reacted angrily Tuesday to South Korea’s decision to fire warning shots in what Japan claims was its airspace.
“In light of Japan's stance regarding sovereignty over Takeshima, the South Korean military aircraft's having carried out warning shots is totally unacceptable and extremely regrettable,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters.
Earlier on Tuesday, two Russian bombers and two Chinese bombers had twice entered the KADIZ, conducting flights of around 30 minutes each time.
Russia said this was the first joint long-range air patrol it has conducted with China in the Asia-Pacific region, but that it had not been aimed at another country.
South Korea’s foreign ministry said it was planning to summon diplomats from both Russia and China to outline their concerns and warn that a similar incident should not happen again.
But the Kremlin denies it violated Korean airspace, claiming that it does not recognize the KADIZ. It accuses the Korean pilots of acting recklessly.
"On July 23, 2019, two Tu-95MS strategic bombers of the Russian Aerospace Forces were performing a scheduled flight in the airspace over neutral waters of the Sea of Japan," the Russian defense ministry said.
An air defense identification zone is a region of the skies declared by a state for the early identification and location of foreign planes approaching its territorial airspace to prevent infiltration by foreign planes and accidental clashes.
However, it is not defined in any international law or treaty.
The Russian defense ministry stressed that the planes flew more than 15 miles away from Dokdo, and claimed the South Korean fighter jets “conducted unprofessional maneuvers, crossing the course of the Russian aircraft and jeopardizing their safety."
Beijing also hit back at South Korea, with a foreign ministry spokesperson pointing out that the KADIZ was not territorial airspace and all countries enjoyed freedom of movement in it.
Cover: In this file photo taken on Tuesday, May 7, 2019, A Russian Beriev A-50 airborne early warning and control training aircraft flies over Red Square during a rehearsal for the Victory Day military parade in Moscow, Russia. South Korean air force jets fired 360 rounds of warning shots after a Russian military plane briefly violated South Korea's airspace twice on Tuesday, Seoul officials said, in the first such incident between the two countries. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, Pool, File)