Russian fighters intrude into Japanese airspace on isle row day, spurring protest

Kyodo

Two Russian fighter jets briefly intruded into Japanese airspace Thursday off Hokkaido, the first such incursion in five years, the Defense Ministry said.

Tokyo lodged a protest with Moscow over the incident, asking the Russian side to look into the case, the Foreign Ministry said.

But Russian media reported the same day that the nation’s military denies its aircraft intruded into Japanese airspace.

According to the Defense Ministry, two Russian Su-27 fighter jets intruded into Japanese airspace for roughly a minute from 2:59 p.m. in an area southwest of Rishiri Island, which sits near the northern tip of Hokkaido.

Air Self-Defense Force F-2 fighter jets were scrambled to the scene, while the Russian jets flew southward over the Sea of Japan before turning back north, according to the ministry.

Russian aircraft last intruded into Japanese airspace in February 2008. The aircraft flew around the Izu Islands, which lie just south of Honshu.

Thursday’s intrusion coincided with an annual rally in Tokyo in which Prime Minister Shinzo Abe vowed to promote talks with Russia to settle the decades-long territorial dispute over the Russian-held islands of Etorofu, Kunashiri and Shikotan and the Habomai islets, all of which were seized by Soviet forces at the end of World War II.

Japan holds a rally every year on Feb. 7, the day dedicated to the islands, which Japan wants returned.

In his speech at the rally, Abe, referring to his telephone chat with Russian President Vladimir Putin in December, said he told the Russian leader he would make efforts to find a solution acceptable to both sides.

Abe also referred to his attendance at the February 2007 rally when he was previously prime minister, noting there has been no change in his determination to settle the dispute.