News & Politics

South Korea Fires Hundreds of Warning Shots at Russian Plane

South Korean national security director Chung Eui-yong, center, speaks to reporters at the White House in Washington, Thursday, March 8, 2018. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

There is a serious military confrontation going on in the Far East with Japan, South Korea, Russia, and China squaring off in the skies over 2 disputed islands in the Sea of Japan.

The incident began when South Korean military detected an incursion by a Russian A-50 command and control military aircraft that violated its airspace. Japan scrambled its own fighters and Russia responded by deploying some TU-95 bombers. Two Chinese H-6 bombers accompanied the Russia warplanes on sorties throughout the region.

A South Korean military spokesman said that they fired more than 300 warning shots at the Russian A-50. Russia vehemently denies they violated Korean airspace. The National Interest:

South Korean aircraft “conduced unprofessional maneuvers by crossing the course of Russian strategic missile carriers, threatening their security,” said the Russian Ministry of Defense, according to CNN. The ministry didn’t mention the A-50 command aircraft or the warning shots that South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff reported to have occurred.

Russia also said, according to CNN, the flight was “carried out in order to deepen and develop Russian-Chinese relations” and was “not aimed against third countries.”

The Russian account was  disputed by Japan, which agreed with the South Korean military about the incident. CNN:

But in a statement Tuesday afternoon, Japan’s Ministry of Defense backed up South Korea’s claims, saying the A-50 had flown over the islands and that Tokyo had scrambled fighters to intercept.

In a further complication, both South Korea and Japan said that two Chinese H-6 bombers had joined the Russian military aircraft on sorties through the region as well.

Over the past few years, Russia has continuously buzzed U.S. warships and violated our airspace. The belief is that they are testing our response to potential conflicts. This very well may be a similar effort to determine readiness and responses by both Japan and South Korea.

Tensions in the Far East are already high with China militarizing several islands in the South China Sea, while laying claim to huge swaths of the Pacific Ocean. While both Japan and South Korea have their hands full keeping a watchful eye on North Korea, perhaps Russia believed the time was right to pull the dragon’s tail.

It’s a dangerous game, of course, with unpredictable results. Russia and China may have skated this time, but somehow, I don’t think the Japanese and South Korean responses will be quite so mild the next time it happens.