Russia reveals strategic bomber mission over Sea of Japan as Putin arrives in China
Stars and Stripes October 18, 2023
TOKYO — Russian bombers and fighters flew a seven-hour mission over the Sea of Japan, Russia’s defense ministry announced the same day President Vladimir Putin arrived in Beijing for talks with Chinese leader Xi Jinping.
An undated video released by the ministry Tuesday shows a pair of Tupolev-95 bombers escorted by Sukhoi-35 fighter jets over waters between Japan and South Korea.
The mission took place the same day an Air Force B-52H Stratofortress bomber touched down on the Korean Peninsula for the first time in at least 30 years.
The visit to Cheongju International Airport, about 60 miles south of Seoul, reinforces the United States’ “ironclad commitment” to defend the South from a North Korean attack, according to a USFK news release Monday.
Russian aircraft regularly fly over neutral waters of the Pacific, Arctic, North Atlantic, Black and Baltic Seas, according to the country’s defense ministry.
It’s unclear whether Japan scrambled fighters in response to the Russian planes. A spokesman for Japan’s Ministry of Defense, reached by phone Wednesday, said he could not provide information until Friday. It’s customary in Japan for some government officials to speak to reporters anonymously.
Japan Air Self-Defense Force jets scrambled 424 times between April and September to intercept approaching foreign aircraft, Japan’s Joint Staff announced Sept. 30. Of those, 304 were against Chinese aircraft and 110 were against Russian aircraft.
That’s 15 more Russian aircraft than reported over the same period last year, according to the release.
“Basically, the numbers are largely unchanged, and that is precisely the point,” James Brown, an international affairs expert at Temple University’s Japan campus, told Stars and Stripes in an email Wednesday. “Russia is trying to demonstrate that the conflict in Ukraine has not diminished its capabilities elsewhere.”
U.S. bombers also train frequently over the Sea of Japan, or the East Sea. A B-52H flew alongside four U.S. F-16s and three South Korean F-15K Slam Eagles for an escort drill on July 13, a day after North Korea fired an intercontinental ballistic missile that flew for 74 minutes, a flight record for the communist regime.
Fighter jets from the U.S., South Korea and Japan will escort a B-52 during an aerial drill over the peninsula on Sunday, an unnamed South Korean military official told the Yonhap News Agency for a report Wednesday.
In Beijing on Tuesday, Putin’s plane was met by an honor guard as Russia’s leader began his visit with an endorsement of China’s Belt and Road initiative to build infrastructure and grow China’s influence abroad, according to The Associated Press.
Putin said he and Xi would also discuss growing economic ties between Moscow and Beijing in energy, high-tech and financial industries, the report said.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, also in China, is scheduled to visit North Korea from Wednesday.
Stars and Stripes reporter Hana Kusumoto contributed to this report.