SEOUL - This story was last updated on July 23 at 7:00 a.m.
South Korean jets fired flares and warning shots Tuesday after a Russian warplane violated its territorial airspace, according to Seoul’s defense ministry.
South Korea scrambled multiple jets, including F-15Ks and F-16Ks, after the Russian plane entered South Korea’s territory over the East Sea, South Korean officials say.
After the South Korean jets fired warning shots, the Russian plane left South Korean territory. However, it returned a short time later, prompting the South Korean jets to fire more warning shots.
Two other Russian planes, along with two Chinese military aircraft, were also operating within South Korea’s air defense identification zone on Tuesday, Seoul officials say.
South Korea's Defense Ministry lodged an official protest with Chinese and Russian embassy officials. Russia's Defense Ministry issued a statement denying Seoul's accusations, saying their bombers were on a "planned flight" above the neutral waters of the Sea of Japan. Moscow instead accused the South Korean fighter jets of "unprofessional maneuvers" when they crossed the path ID the Russian bombers, and said the South Korean jets never fired any warning shots.
Air defense identification zones, which are not recognized by international treaties or laws, are meant to help countries identify and communicate with approaching foreign planes, in order to prevent miscommunication and accidental clashes.
Chinese and Russian planes have occasionally entered South Korea’s air defense identification zones. But South Korean officials say this is the first time that a Russian plane has violated its territorial skies.
The violation happened near a disputed group of islands claimed by both South Korea, which calls it Dokdo, and Japan, which calls it Takeshima. Separately, Japan also lodged a formal protest with Seoul and Moscow over the incident. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters in Tokyo that South Korea's actions were "totally unacceptable and extremely regrettable" in light of Japan's claim over the islands.