A Russian Tu-95 long-range bomber flies south of Japan on Feb. 9, 2008.

A Russian Tu-95 long-range bomber flies south of Japan on Feb. 9, 2008. (U.S. Navy)

Russian bombers made a recent show of force near Japan to indicate the cost of being an “unfriendly country,” according to a Tokyo-based security expert.

Two Russian nuclear-capable Tu-95 strategic bombers accompanied by Sukhoi fighter jets made a seven-hour patrol over the Sea of Japan, according to a Reuters report Thursday that cited a Russian Federation Ministry of Defense statement from the previous day. The report didn’t specify when the patrol happened.

Relations between Russia and Japan have deteriorated since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February.

Japan has joined western economic sanctions on Russia, which responded by withdrawing from treaty talks over the status of islands north of Japan and freezing joint economic projects in disputed islands north of Japan.

Russia can afford to send the large, four-engine, turboprop Tupolev bombers over the Sea of Japan, which is also known as the East Sea, because it does not employ them in the war against Ukraine, according to James Brown, an international affairs expert at Temple University’s Japan campus.

The bomber patrols are a show of force in the hope that Tokyo will think twice about introducing further sanctions, Brown told Stars and Stripes in an email Thursday.

“Russia wants to show that there is a cost to Japan to being an ‘unfriendly country,’” he wrote.

The latest bomber patrol follows a Nov. 30 mission by Russian and Chinese warplanes that flew near Japan. Russian and Chinese aircraft also flew together near Japan in May, a spokesman for Japan’s Joint Staff said by phone Thursday. Japanese government officials routinely speak to the media on condition of anonymity.

Russia this month also deployed coastal defense missiles near four islands north of Hokkaido that have been occupied by Russia since World War II but are claimed by Japan.

Japan’s air force scrambled fighters 21 times in response to Russian warplanes approaching Japanese air space in November compared to 23 in November 2021, the Joint Staff spokesman said.

Russian planes entered Japan’s territorial air space in March and September last year, the spokesman said.

“The tendency of Russian aircraft to be active near Japan has not changed even as the international community responds to the Ukraine invasion,” he said. “We continue to closely observe Russia’s military activities in airspace surrounding Japan and take all possible measures to respond to any air territorial violation.”

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Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.
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Hana Kusumoto is a reporter/translator who has been covering local authorities in Japan since 2002. She was born in Nagoya, Japan, and lived in Australia and Illinois growing up. She holds a journalism degree from Boston University and previously worked for the Christian Science Monitor’s Tokyo bureau.

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