Two Russian fighters breach Japanese airspace: Tokyo
TOKYO (AFP) – Two Russian fighters violated Japanese airspace on Thursday, Tokyo’s defence ministry said, prompting Japan to scramble its own warplanes in what was reported to be the first such incident in five years.
The planes were detected off the northern island of Hokkaido for just over a minute, shortly after Japan’s new prime minister said he wanted to find a “mutually acceptable solution” to a decades-old territorial row between the two.
Japan’s foreign ministry lodged a formal protest over what it said was an incursion by a pair of Russian Su-27 fighters. Four Japanese F-2 fighters were sent up to visually confirm the Russian planes, according to Kyodo news.
“Today, around 3pm, military fighters belonging to Russian Federation breached our nation’s airspace above territorial waters off Hokkaido’s Rishiri island,” the foreign ministry said.
If confirmed, it would be the first breach of Japanese airspace by Russia since February 2008, according to Japanese media reports.
However, Moscow denied any incursion had taken place, in a statement by the spokesman for the military command’s eastern district, Roman Martov, given to Russian news agencies.
“Flights by the air force of the Pacific Fleet take place regularly in this region, in strict adherence to the international rules, without violation of state borders,” it said.
The alleged incident came hours after hawkish Japanese premier Shinzo Abe – who swept to power in December with pledges to get tough on diplomacy – offered apparently conciliatory comments toward Moscow over the Russian-administered Southern Kurils, known as the Northern Territories in Japan.