South Korea responded aggressively to a joint Russian-Chinese air patrol on Tuesday that it claimed violated its airspace, firing hundreds of rounds to warn the planes.
The flight consisted of two Russian Tu-95 strategic bombers and two Chinese H-6 bombers along with a Russian A-50 early warning plane and a similar Chinese plane, the KJ-2000, Reuters reported.
Russia’s Ministry of Defense said the collaboration between it and China was precedent-setting.
“The joint patrol was carried out with the aim of deepening Russian-Chinese relations within our all-encompassing partnership, of further increasing cooperation between our armed forces, and of perfecting their capabilities to carry out joint actions, and of strengthening global strategic security,” the ministry said in a statement.
South Korea, however, responded to the entry into its Korea Air Defense Identification Zone by firing warning shots, the Associated Press reported.
South Korean accounts said fighters jets, including U.S.-made F-16s, scrambled when the intruding planes were first detected, and fired 10 flares and 80 rounds from machine guns as a warning. When the planes returned after a brief departure from the zone, South Korea’s jets fired 10 flares and 280 rounds.
The commander of Russia’s long-range aviation forces put a different spin on the incident, saying Russian planes never violated South Korean airspace and no shots were fired
“If the Russian pilots had identified such a threat to themselves, they would have immediately given an appropriate response,” Lt. Gen. Sergei Kobylash said.
He said South Korean military planes escorted the Russian planes in neutral space, which he called “aerial hooliganism.”
Kobylash said fighter jets from foreign militaries escorted the joint patrol on 11 separate occasions.
He said Russia gave South Korea’s military attache in Moscow a note protesting “the illegal and dangerous actions” of Seoul’s pilots, Kobylash said.
Meanwhile, South Korea’s top security adviser, Chung Eui-yong protested to Russian authorities.
“We take a very grave view of this situation and, if it is repeated, we will take even stronger action,” Chung said.
Japan, which also scrambled fighters, denounced the Russian and Chinese actions, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said.
“In light of Japan’s stance regarding sovereignty over Takeshima, the fact that the South Korean military aircraft carried out warning shots is totally unacceptable and extremely regrettable,” Suga said.
Japan also has dueling claims with South Korea over the islands above which the incident took place, and protested against the South Korean response.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying bristled when a reporter used the word “violation” in asking about the incident.
“I feel that given China and South Korea are friendly neighbors, you should be careful when using it, because we are not clear about the situation,” she said.
“We can clearly see that it is a massive submarine — much larger than the existing one that’s been well known since 2014,” said Ankit Panda of the Federation of American Scientists.
“What I find significant about the political messaging here is that this is the first time since a February 2018 military parade that he has inspected a military system clearly designed to carry and deliver nuclear weapons,” Panda said.
“I take that as an ominous signal that we should be taking Kim Jong Un’s end-of-year deadline for the implementation of a change in U.S. policy with the utmost seriousness.”
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