S Korea jets fire warning shots at Russian military plane

Seoul: South Korean jets fired 360 rounds of warning shots after a Russian military plane violated South Korea’s airspace, Seoul officials said, in the first such incident between the countries.

Three Russian military planes – two Tu-95 bombers and an A-50 airborne early warning and control aircraft – initially entered South Korea’s air defence identification zone off its east coast before the A-50 entered the country’s territorial sky, the defence ministry said.

South Korean fighter jets scrambled to the area to fire 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 but returned and violated the South Korean airspace again later on Tuesday, the official said. He said South Korean fighter jets again fired 10 flares and 280 machine-gun rounds as warning shots. The Russian plane did not return fire, the official said.

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

Russia’s defence ministry denied its bombers had violated South Korean airspace and accused South Korean jets of carrying out dangerous manoeuvres that threatened its aircraft, the RIA news agency reported.

The former Soviet Union supported North Korea and provided the country with weapons during the 1950-53 Korean war. 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 onboard. Relations between Seoul and Moscow gradually improved, and they established diplomatic ties in 1990, a year before the breakup of the Soviet Union.

The airspace the Russian warplane allegedly violated on Tuesday 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 defence identification zone with two Chinese bombers, but it was not 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 defence zone off its south-west coast earlier on Tuesday, according to the South Korean official. Chinese planes have occasionally entered the zone in recent years.

South Korea’s defence ministry said it planned to summon Russian and Chinese embassy officials to register formal protests.