South Korean and Russian Warplanes Face-off In Rare Mid-air Confrontation
SEOUL, South Korea. -- South Korean fighter jets fired more than 300 warning shots at a Russian military aircraft that had violated the country's airspace Tuesday, defense officials said, in an account furiously disputed by Moscow.
South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff accused a Russian A-50 command and control military aircraft of twice violating South Korean airspace off the country's eastern coast on Tuesday morning.
The incursion came during what South Koreans officials believe was a joint Russian-Chinese military exercise. Two Chinese H-6 bombers had passed into Seoul's air identification zone just hours before, joined by another two Russian military planes, according to defense officials.
It is the first time a foreign country has violated South Korean airspace, according to the Ministry of National Defense.
The confrontation took place over disputed islands in the East Sea, also known as the Sea of Japan, in the early hours of Tuesday morning.
The two, small islands, known to the Koreans as Dokdo and to the Japanese as Takeshima, are claimed by both countries.
Japan also confirmed it scrambled fighter jets in response to the Russian incursion, Tuesday.
"We confirmed Russia's A50 has invaded Japan's airspace while two of Russian TU-95 bombers and two Chinese H-6 bombers flew around Japan. We took measures against the invasion" said a spokesman for the country's ministry of defense.
The Russian Defense Ministry said that two Tu-95 strategic bombers had carried out a planned flight in the airspace over neutral waters of the Sea of Japan (East Sea), and accused South Korean fighter pilots of acting inappropriately.
"(They) conduced unprofessional maneuvers by crossing the course of Russian strategic missile carriers, threatening their security," the ministry said in a statement Tuesday.
"South Korean pilots did not contact the crews of Tu-95ms, the F-16 fired a round of flares and carried out a maneuver, moving away from Russian aircraft."
When asked about the incident, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said they weren't aware of the details and referred the question to the Defense Department.
(PHOTO: Sam Yeh/Getty Images)