A Russian strategic bomber briefly entered Japanese airspace over the Pacific south of Tokyo on early Saturday morning, prompting 24 Japanese military aircraft to scramble, officials said.
Russia denied the incursion, but the Japanese foreign ministry said it lodged a strong protest with the Russian embassy in Tokyo. “We have asked the Russian government to make a thorough investigation into the matter,” a foreign ministry spokesman said.
The Soviet-era Tupolev Tu-95 bomber flew over the rocky isle of Sofugan, 650 kilometres (406 miles) south of Tokyo, for about three minutes from 7:30 am (2230 GMT Friday), the defence ministry said.
The air force scrambled 24 planes, including F-15 fighters, the defence ministry said, giving an updated figure.
They gave “a notice, then a warning and another a notice and a warning,” a defence ministry statement said. “There was no response.” The Russian bomber then flew back north towards the Russian island of Sakhalin, it said. Moscow denied that any of its planes entered Japanese airspace.
“Russian air force planes carried out their mission according to plan. Japanese military airspace was not breached,” Alexander Drobyshevsky, a spokesman for the Russian air force, told state news agency ITAR-TASS.
The strategic bomber flights “were carried out in strict accordance with international rules on flying over neutral waters, without violating the border between the two countries,” Drobyshevsky said.
Japan said it was the first Russian violation of its airspace since January 2006.