South Korea fired warning shots at a Russian warplane Tuesday after it twice violated the South’s airspace, Seoul’s military said, in an account immediately disputed by Russia, accusing the South of “unprofessional” and dangerous maneuvers over neutral waters, but no warning shots.
Officials cited by local news agency Yonhap said the South’s Air Force scrambled F-15K and F-16K fighter jets in response to the initial incursion into Korean airspace by the A-50 early warning and control plane shortly after 9:00 a.m. (0000GMT).
The Russian aircraft left within around five minutes after the South Korean side fired warning shots and flares, but returned for another few minutes after 9.30 a.m. to the same area over South Korean-controlled disputed islets that are also claimed by Japan.
It is the first time in the post-Korean War era that a foreign military aircraft has apparently trespassed in South Korean airspace, while earlier in the day Russian and Chinese aircraft both entered the South’s air defense identification zone without warning.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s office made an official complaint to Russia’s Security Council, according to spokeswoman Ko Min-jung, warning that Seoul “will take a far stronger measure” if such an act is repeated.
The day’s unprecedented events involving both Russian and Chinese aircraft came as U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton arrived in Seoul, driving speculation the flyovers may have been a response to planned joint South Korean-U.S. military drills next month.
- Russia: No warning fire from South Korea
For its part, Russia’s Defense Ministry said in a statement that two of its Tu-95MS strategic bombers were carrying out a scheduled flight in the airspace over the neutral waters of the Sea of Japan.
During the incident, the ministry said, there was no warning fire from the South Korean fighters. 'If Russian pilots had felt a threat to their security, the response would not have been long in coming,' it added.
'Off the Dokdo (Takeshima) islands, Russian aircrafts were approached by the two South Korean F-16 fighters, which performed unprofessional maneuvers, crossing the course of the Russian strategic missile carriers and jeopardizing them,' said the ministry account.
It added that the South Korean pilots did not contact the crews of the Tu-95s, and that the F-16s retreated after bumping into “heat traps,” or decoys meant to confuse possible attacks.
Moscow said that Tu-95MS planes flew without any deviation from their flight plan in line with international rules and without violating South Korea’s airspace.
'It is not the first time South Korean pilots unsuccessfully tried to impede Russian aviation flights the over the neutral waters of the Sea of Japan,' it added.
By Alex Jensen in Seoul
Additional reporting by Elena Teslova in Moscow