Seoul officials said three Russian military planes – two Tu-95 bombers and one A-50 airborne early warning and control aircraft – entered the South’s air defense identification zone off its east coast before the A-50 intruded in South Korean airspace.
An unspecified number of South Korean fighter jets, including F-16s, scrambled to the area and fired 10 flares and 80 rounds from machine guns as warning shots.
South Korean defense officials said the Russian aircrafts left the area three minutes later, but later returned and violated the country’s airspace again for four additional minutes. Again, South Korean fighter jets responded by firing 10 flares and 280 rounds from machine guns as warning shots.
Russia quickly disputed the incident, saying that two of its Tu-95MS bombers were on a routine flight over neutral waters and didn’t enter South Korean territory.
The Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement that the South’s fighter jets didn’t fire any warning shots, though it said they flew near the Russian planes in what it called “unprofessional maneuvers” and posed a threat.
“If the Russian pilots felt there was a security threat, they would have responded,” the statement said, adding: “This is not the first time that South Korean pilots tried unsuccessfully to prevent Russian aircraft from flying over the neutral waters of the Sea of Japan.”
A South Korean defense ministry spokesman told Reuters that Seoul never said the Tu-95 bombers had violated its airspace. He did not directly address the Russian accusation of reckless behavior.
The incident could complicate relations between the two nations and raise tension in the region that has for years been overshadowed by hostility between the United States and North Korea.
South Korea said it was the first time a foreign military plane had violated South Korean airspace since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War.
South Korea's presidential national security adviser, Chung Eui-yong, told top Russian security official Nikolai Patrushev that South Korea views Russia's airspace violation "very seriously" and will take "much stronger" measures if a similar incident occurs, according to South Korea's presidential office.
South Korea's Foreign Ministry and the Joint Chiefs of Staff summoned Russia's acting ambassador and its defense attache respectively to protest.
Meanwhile, Japan protested to Russia for allegedly violating Japanese airspace and to South Korea for firing warning shots there.
Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters that South Korea's firing of warning shots was "absolutely unacceptable" in light of Japan's territorial claims to Korean-controlled islands that Japan calls Takeshima and South Korea calls Dokto. He said Tokyo "strictly objected to Russia and South Korea via separate diplomatic channels and strongly requested the prevention of a recurrence."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.