South Korea Claims Russia Violated Airspace, Moscow Denies

A Russian A-50 plane and Su-27 fighter jets fly over St. Basil's cathedral during the Victory Day parade in Moscow on May 9, 2010. In a moment of huge symbolism, soldiers from Britain, France, Poland and the United States paraded on the square's famous cobbles in Moscow at the same …
ANDREY SMIRNOV/AFP/Getty

South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reported a Russian aircraft violated South Korean airspace in the wee hours of Tuesday morning.

The Russian A-50s would be the first aircraft to ever violate South Korean airspace. Officers from the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff announced they trespassed territory above the East Sea, near South Korea’s easternmost islets of Dokdo. According to their report, at 9:01 AM:

The Air Force instantly deployed multiple jets, including F-15Ks and F-16Ks, and sent warning messages to it in accordance with operation manuals. But the plane did not respond, so one of our aircraft fired some 10 rounds of flares and 80 warning shots.

The craft then reportedly exited South Korean airspace, before re-entering minutes later. This time, ten flares and 280 warning shots were fired. By about 10:00 a.m., the encounter had ended. In response, South Korea’s foreign ministry lodged a complaint with Maxim Volkov, one of the resident diplomats at the Russian Embassy.

Deputy Foreign Minister for Political Affairs Yoon Soon-gu reportedly told Volkov “that the Russian plane’s violation of Korea’s airspace would not only undermine trust between the two countries, but also run counter to international norms,” calling for an official apology and assurance that it would not happen again.

Moscow has denied the accusations outright.

“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 government’s began. “According to flight data, the Tu-95MS aircraft did not deviate from the planned route in accordance with international regulations, flying more than 25 km away from Dokdo (Takeshima) islands without violating South Korea’s airspace.”

Russian officials further claim that South Korean military aircraft then “conducted unprofessional maneuvers, crossing the course of the Russian aircraft and jeopardizing their safety.” The statement continued:

It is not the first time that South Korean pilots have unsuccessfully tried to disrupt the Russian aviation’s maneuvers over the neutral waters of the Sea of Japan, citing a self-imposed “air defense identification zone.”

However, these zones are not envisioned by the international rules and, therefore, are not recognized by Russia, which has been repeatedly communicated to the South Korean side through various channels.

Moscow also alleged that South Korea never fired the reported warning shots, adding, “if the Russian pilots felt a security threat, the response would follow quickly.”

Amidst the turmoil, U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton is presently in South Korea on a two-day consulting trip. Bolton flew to Seoul to help mediate talks between South Korea and Japan, currently embroiled in an increasingly hostile, and increasingly political, trade war. Bolton is also expected to discuss ongoing negotiations with North Korea.

The U.S. government has not issued an official statement on the Russian aircraft incident at press time.

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