Russian Bombers 'Entered South Korea's Air Defense Identification Zone'

A Russian TU-95 bomber, one of the aircraft that flew near South Korean airspace as part of what Moscow called "scheduled flights." Defense Ministry of Japan/Handout via Reuters

Russian bombers have flown too close to South Korea's airspace, according to Seoul, prompting that government to send its fighter jets to escort the planes.

The Russians violated South Korea's air defense identification zone, known as KADIZ, but did not enter the country's airspace on Wednesday, according to Seoul.

"As the Russian aircraft entered the KADIZ in formation yesterday morning, a squadron of our Air Force jets made an emergency sorties," an official speaking on conditions of anonymity told the South Korean news agency Yonhap on Thursday.

The Russian Defense Ministry said the TU-95 bombers took part in "scheduled flights over neutral waters" of the Pacific Ocean and of the Japan, Yellow and East China Seas. They were accompanied by Russian Sukhoi-35S fighter jets and A-50 early warning and control aircraft.

"At certain stages of the flight route, Russian strategic missile carriers were accompanied by aircraft from the Air Force of the Republic of Korea and the Air Self-Defense Forces of Japan," the ministry said, as was reported by Russia's state-owned news agency TASS. It did not specify how many aircraft were involved or when the mission took place.

Unlike a country's airspace, an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) is not a concept enshrined in international law. A country may declare an ADIZ unilaterally, as a way to require foreign military aircraft to identify themselves and their plans.

The Japanese have not yet commented on the incident, but they aren't unaccustomed to Russian bombers flying around their airspace. Japan scrambled its fighter jets in April to head off six Russian military planes—including two TU-95 bombers—that flew across the Pacific and over the Sea of Japan before returning to Russia following a course over Japan's island of Hokkaido, without violating Japan's airspace.

Tensions were high at the time over the Korean Peninsula and the Sea of Japan, as North Korea had fired four missiles toward Japan in March and had intensified its ballistic missile test launches (with mixed results).

Russia, which shares a border with North Korea, has repeatedly voiced concerns over the risk of a military confrontation on the Korean Peninsula, inviting all parties to de-escalate their belligerent rhetoric. Along with China, Russia called on the U.S. to halt its annual joint military drills in South Korea, which began on Monday, in exchange for Pyongyang stopping its missile tests.

Moscow is also nervous about Japan's plan to increase its nuclear missile defense capabilities with the deployment of the land-base U.S. Aegis Ashore system, as Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told Chinese and Japanese media in an interview reported in Russia's state-run news agency Ria Novosti.