Japan said it detected two Russian Su-27 planes crossing over the Sea of Japan on Thursday, reigniting a territory dispute between Russia and Japan over an island chain, BBC News reported.
The Russian Sukhoi jets appeared over the northern island of Hokkaido before they turned back to the north, according to Japanese officials. Hokkaido is part of the larger collection of islands known as Southern Kurils in Russia and the Northern Territories in Japan. In response, Tokyo scrambled its aircraft.
“Today, around 03:00 (06:00 GMT), military fighters belonging to Russian Federation breached our nation’s airspace above territorial waters off Rishiri island in Hokkaido,” said the Japanese foreign ministry.
Roman Martov, a spokesman for the eastern district of the Russian air force, insisted that the flights were “strictly in accordance with international rules on the use of airspace and did not involve breaching the borders of other states.”
On Wednesday, military sources reportedly told Russia’s Interfax new agency that Russian armed forces have started exercises on the disputed islands.
The flyover incident occurred after Japanese Prime Minister Schinzo Abe announced his discussion with Russian President Vladimir Putin about pursuing a mutual solution to the territory dispute over the islands.
Abe addressed a crowd of 2,000 former islanders and descendants on Northern Territories Day, the anniversary of the 1855 treaty which Japan believes justifies its claim of the islands.
This 60-year-old territory dispute between Russia and Japan is the reason the two nations have not signed a peace treaty to end World War II. In the last days of World War II, Russia took the islands from the Japanese and have since repopulated them. In December, Abe and Putin agreed to renew talks about a peace treaty.
Territory disputes over the Senkaku islands — called Diaoyu islands in China — in the East China Sea between China and Japan peaked in September of last year, when the Japanese government purchased three of the islands from a private owner. On January 21 and 30, Chinese ships breached Japanese territorial waters. This event suspended hopes for a summit between the two nations with the largest economies in Asia.
Japan’s Defense Ministry announced in January that it will be increasing its defense budget by 0.8 percent and the Coast Guard budget by 1.9 percent. The Defense Budget hasn’t changed in 11 years.
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