A Russian military surveillance aircraft penetrated Korea’s sovereign airspace twice Tuesday morning over the easternmost islets of Dokdo in the East Sea, prompting Seoul to fire hundreds of warning shots and flares, according to military authorities.
It was the first time that a foreign plane violated Korea’s sovereign airspace, the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said, though they’ve entered the larger Korea Air Defense Identification Zone (Kadiz) many times in the past.
The JCS said a Russian A-50 airborne early warning and control aircraft violated Korea’s national airspace from 9:09 a.m. to 9:12 a.m., reaching as close to 12.9 kilometers (8 miles) east of Dokdo. Eighteen aircraft from the Korean Air Force being deployed nearby - including F-15K and KF-16 fighter jets - fired 80 warning shots and 10 flares in response. A flare is a device that emits a high-intensity yellow flame and cloud of white smoke.
But the Russian A-50 violated Korean airspace a second time from 9:33 a.m. to 9:37 a.m. in the same area, as close to 15.7 kilometers west of Dokdo, flying in Korean skies for a total of seven minutes without prior notification. In the second case, the Korean Air Force fired 10 flares and about 280 rounds of warning shots, said the JCS.
Violating a nation’s sovereign airspace is considered far graver than entering its so-called “air defense identification zone” because the latter is not defined in any international agreement or governed by any international body, while sovereign airspaces are recognized in several international agreements, including the Convention of International Civil Aviation, also known as the Chicago Convention. This is why when Seoul military officials give briefings to local reporters, they normally use the term “enter” for the Kadiz and “violate” for the country’s sovereign airspace.
An air defense identification zone refers to an area of international airspace bordering a country’s sovereign or territorial airspace, in which the country requests additional aircraft identification requirements primarily to defend its territory from potential aerial threats. Not every country has an air defense identification zone, but Korea is one of a handful, including the United States, China and Japan.
In Korea’s case, a plane has to enter the Kadiz first to violate the nation’s airspace, which means the Russian A-50 that violated Korean airspace twice on Tuesday morning also entered the Kadiz twice.
The JCS said it appears the Russian aircraft violated Korea’s airspace during a combined operation with China’s Air Force, though neither country gave any explanation about the transgression. Chinese and other Russian planes entered the Kadiz earlier Tuesday before the Russian aircraft flew into Korean skies, the JCS pointed out.
According to Korea’s military, two Chinese H-6 jet bombers entered the Kadiz at 6:44 a.m. on Tuesday on the northwest side of Ieo Island, which is southwest of Jeju Island in the South Sea. At 7:14 a.m., the Chinese jet bombers flew out of the Kadiz on the northeast side of Ieo Island, only to re-enter the Kadiz at 7:49 a.m. at a point 140 kilometers (76 miles) south of the Dokdo islets in the East Sea. It flew past Dokdo and left the Kadiz at 8:20 a.m.
After leaving the Kadiz for the second time, the two Chinese military planes flew back south toward Korea, this time with two Russian TU-95 strategic bombers. The four planes entered the Kadiz at a point 76 miles north of Ulleung Island, which is next to Dokdo in the East Sea, at 8:40 a.m., and left the Kadiz at 9:04 a.m. on the south side of Ulleung Island.
The case of the Russian A-50 violating Korea’s national airspace occurred after these Kadiz incidents, said Korea’s military.
The Russian A-50 that breached Korean airspace was not one of the two Russian aircraft that flew along with the two Chinese aircraft in the entering of Kadiz. In total, the JCS said Chinese and Russian planes flew a total of three hours and 12 minutes in the Kadiz and Korea’s airspace on Tuesday.
Blue House spokesperson Ko Min-jung said Tuesday that Chung Eui-yong, Seoul’s director of national security, lodged a “strong protest” with Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of the Russian Security Council, about the violations, telling him that the Blue House is “taking the incident very seriously” and that if such an act was repeated, Seoul would respond with “a far stronger measure.” Chung was also quoted as asking the Russian Security Council to look into the incident.
Seoul’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it summoned Maxim Volkov, charge d’affaires of the Russian Embassy in Korea, to the ministry in central Seoul on Tuesday afternoon to protest Russia’s violations of Korean airspace.
Russian Ambassador Andrey Kulik was said to be on vacation.
Chinese Ambassador Qiu Guohong was also summoned to the ministry for China’s planes entering the Kadiz.