A Russian jet penetrated Japan air space on Tuesday, prompting the Japanese Air Self- Defense Force to send four of its own fighter jets into the sky to cut off the intruder and keep it from again making an incursion into sovereign Japanese territory. The intrusion by the Russian jet also sparked an official protest by the Japanese government to its counterpart in the Kremlin.
The Russian government has not yet confirmed that the intruding aircraft was indeed one of its own, but has pledged to investigate.
“We made the protest through the Russian Embassy in Tokyo,” said a Tokyo Foreign Ministry official, quoted in the Japan Times newspaper. “The Russian side did not confirm the case, only saying they will check.”
The brief invasion of Japan air space, which according to Japan’s Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper lasted only 15 seconds at around 2:04 p.m. on Tuesday afternoon, took place over the Nemuro Peninsula on Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido — near a disputed set of Islands known in Japan as the Northern Territories, but called the Kuril Islands by the Russian government.
Both countries claim ownership of the islands in an ongoing territorial dispute that has kept tensions between Russia and Japan high since the conclusion of World War II 70 years ago.
But the countries have recently made at least some efforts to calm those long-standing tensions. The unsettling incursion by a Russian jet into Japan air space comes just as Japan’s Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida is scheduled to visit Moscow in an attempt to entice Russian leader Vladimir Putin to make a trip to Tokyo sometime in 2016.
Kishida was originally scheduled to make the Moscow trip last month, but when Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev made a visit to the disputed island region, the Japan Foreign Minister’s trip was postponed in protest.
Russian jets posed a serious problem for Japan during much of last year. In the first six months alone of 2014, Japanese fighter jets scrambled 533 times in response to Russian aircraft flying perilously close to Japan.
But the last actual intrusion into Japanese air space by a Russian plane occurred in August of 2013, when a pair of Russian Tu-95 bombers — an aircraft capable of carrying armed nuclear weapons — were intercepted off of Japan’s southwestern coast.
But the Russian jets flying near and, on Tuesday, into Japanese skies may actually be attempting to gather intelligence about a new missile defense system recently installed there, Jane’s Defense Weekly reported last year.
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