SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korean air force jets fired 360 rounds of warning shots after a Russian military plane briefly violated South Korea’s airspace twice on Tuesday, Seoul officials said, in the first such incident between the countries.
Three Russian military planes — two Tu-95 bombers and one A-50 airborne early warning and control aircraft — entered South Korea’s air defense identification zone off its east coast before the A-50 intruded in South Korean airspace, the South’s Defense Ministry said.
South Korean fighter jets scrambled to the area, including F-16s, and fired 10 flares and 80 rounds from machine guns as warning shots, a ministry official said, requesting anonymity due to department rules.
The Russian reconnaissance aircraft left the area three minutes later, but it returned and violated the South Korean airspace again for four additional minutes later Tuesday, the ministry official said. He said the South Korean fighter jets fired 10 flares and 280 rounds from machineguns as warning shots again.
It was the first time a foreign military plane has violated South Korean airspace since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War, according to South Korean officials.
The former Soviet Union supported North Korea and provided the country with weapons during the Korean War, which killed millions. In 1983, a Soviet air force fighter jet fired an air-to-air missile at a South Korean passenger plane that strayed into Soviet territory, killing all 269 people on board. Relations between Seoul and Moscow gradually improved, and they established diplomatic ties in 1990, a year before the breakup of the Soviet Union.
Later Tuesday, South Korea’s Foreign Ministry and the Joint Chiefs of Staff summoned Russia’s acting ambassador and its defense attaché to file a formal complaint with them. Separately, South Korea’s presidential national security adviser, Chung Eui-yong, told top Russia security official Nikolai Patrushev that South Korea takes Russia’s airspace violation “very seriously” and will take “much stronger” measures if a similar incident occurs, according to South Korea’s presidential office.
The airspace the Russian warplane violated was above a group of South Korean-held islets roughly halfway between South Korea and Japan that has been a source of territorial disputes between them. Russia is not a party in those disputes.
The three Russian planes had entered the South Korean air defense identification zone with two Chinese bombers. But it wasn’t immediately known whether the two countries deliberately did so, according to the South Korean official.
Before their joint flights with the Russian planes, the Chinese warplanes entered South Korea’s air defense identification zone off its southwest coast earlier Tuesday, according to the South Korean official. Chinese planes have occasionally entered South Korea’s air defense identification zone in recent years.
South Korea’s Foreign Ministry and Joint Chiefs of Staff registered their official protests with Beijing when they summoned China’s ambassador and defense attaché.