Two Russian Tu-95Ms and two Chinese Xian H-6 bombers patrolled a pre-planned route above the Sea of Japan and the East China Sea, “strictly in accordance with international law,” the Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement.
Seoul claims the bombers breached its air defense identification zone (also known as KADIZ), but Moscow insists this designation is not supported by any international rules and that no third country’s airspace was violated.
In its own response to the intercept, Beijing reminded Seoul that its KADIZ is not the same thing as South Korean internationally recognized airspace, and is therefore not off-limits to aircraft of other countries.
The Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson also warned Seoul to “be careful when using the word ‘invasion’.”
The route apparently took the aircraft close to a set of tiny islands in the Sea of Japan, known as the Dokdo islands in South Korea and as Takeshima in Japan, and contested by both nations.
Both countries subsequently scrambled its military aircraft to ward off the bombers. South Korea also claimed its jets had to fire “warning shots,” but Moscow insists these were only flares.
Russia has accused the South Koreans of acting “unprofessionally” and of putting the safety of Russian bombers at risk by dangerously cutting across their path.
The first-ever joint patrol of the long-range aviation in the Pacific was the beginning of a wider program, which aims to boost the ability of Russian and Chinese air forces to work together, Moscow says. The planned program will continue at least through the end of 2019 and is “not aimed against third countries.”