South Korea fires warning shots after Russian warplane violates airspace

South Korean jets fired warning shots after a Russian military plane violated South Korea’s airspace on Tuesday, Seoul officials said, in the first such incident between the countries.

Three Russian military planes initially entered South Korea’s air defence identification zone off its east coast before one of them entered the country’s territorial sky, the South’s Defence Ministry said.

South Korean fighter jets then scrambled to the area to fire warning shots, a ministry official said, requesting anonymity due to department rules.

The Russian plane left the area but it returned and violated the South Korean airspace again later Tuesday, the ministry official said. He said the South Korean fighter jets fired warning shots again. Each time, the Russian plane didn’t return fire, the official said.

It was the first time a Russian military plane violated South Korean airspace, according to South Korean officials.

South Korea’s Chung Eui-yong, chief of the National Security Office, sent a strong objection to Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of the Security Council of Russia, and asked the council to assess the incident and take appropriate action, the president’s office said in a statement.

“We take a very grave view of this situation and, if it is repeated, we will take even stronger action,” Chung said, according to South Korea’s presidential office.

Russia’s Ministry of Defence denied that its strategic bombers had violated South Korean air space and accused South Korean jets of carrying out dangerous manoeuvres that threatened its aircraft, the RIA news agency reported.

The defence ministry said this was not the first time that South Korean pilots had interfered with a Russian military flight over neutral waters.

China’s foreign ministry, meanwhile, said that South Korea’s air space identification zone is not a territorial airspace and all countries enjoy freedom of movement there.

Embassy officials to be summoned, Seoul says

The airspace the Russian plane violated, according to South Korean officials, 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 isn’t a party in those disputes.

The Russian aircraft was an A-50 airborne early warning and control aircraft, an official at South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said, and South Korea scrambled F-15 and F-16 fighter jets in response to the intrusions.

The South Korean jets fired around 360 rounds of ammunition during the incident, the JCS official said. Russia’s defence ministry denied this and said South Korean pilots had not communicated with the Russian bombers.

The three Russian planes had entered the South Korean air defence identification zone with two Chinese military planes. 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 planes entered South Korea’s air defence identification zone off its southwest coast earlier Tuesday, according to the South Korean official. Chinese planes have occasionally entered South Korea’s air defence identification zone in recent years.

South Korea’s Defence Ministry said it plans to summon Russian and Chinese Embassy officials later Tuesday to register formal protests.

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