In a statement, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said that the Russian military aircraft twice violated South Korean airspace off the country’s eastern coast on Tuesday morning.
The South Korean military said they flew above an island claimed by both South Korea and Japan, first at 9.09 a.m. local time and then again at 9.33 a.m., each time for just a matter of minutes.
In response, South Korea deployed F-15F and KF-16 fighter jets, the statement said, and fired warning shots both times the Russian aircraft entered their airspace.
The shots were fired using 20mm weapon, according to the Ministry of Defense. It is the first time a foreign country has violated South Korean airspace, according to the ministry.
Carl Schuster, a former director of operations at the United States’ Pacific Command’s Joint Intelligence Center, said that shooting a warning shot in the air was “very very serious” and “very, very rare.”
Schuster said that the fact shots were fired meant Seoul had viewed the violation as a serious and deliberate act, adding he couldn’t explain why the Russian plane would come back again after the first warning.
“Penetrating to a point of requiring warning shots to turn away is normally the result of a deliberate decision to penetrate that airspace,” he said.
It was one of two incidents involving South Korea, Tuesday. According to the country’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, two Chinese aircraft entered South Korea’s Air Defense Identification Zone (KADIZ) earlier on Tuesday.
Airspace is defined as the area 12 nautical miles from a country’s borders, which falls entirely under its control. An ADIZ is an area in which the controlling country demands identification, location and control of aircraft’s direction, but doesn’t necessarily have any rights of engagement under international law.
South Korea’s KADIZ was first established in 1950 and most recently adjusted by Seoul in 2013.
The two Chinese planes entered the KADIZ at 6.44 a.m. local time and then 7.49 a.m., after which they met up with the two Russian aircraft. The four planes then entered the KADIZ together at about 8.40 a.m. and remained there for 24 minutes, according to the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
It is immediately whether the Russian plane intentionally violated South Korean airspace.
The incident is unusual. Though East Asia is riven by numerous, long-standing territorial disputes, Russia and South Korea rarely come into conflict.