Russian nuclear-capable strategic bombers have flown a rare mission around the Korean Peninsula, prompting Japan and Seoul to scramble jets to escort them, Reuters reports.
The show of force by Moscow came at a time when the United States and South Korea were conducting joint military exercises, which Russia says is fueling tension with North Korea.
Russia, which has expressed opposition to any unilateral US military action on North Korea, said Tupolev-95MS bombers flew over the Pacific Ocean, the Sea of Japan, the Yellow Sea and the East China Sea.
The bombers had been accompanied by Sukhoi-35S fighter jets and A-50 early warning and control aircraft, it said.
“The US and South Korea holding yet more large-scale military and naval exercises does not help reduce tensions on the Korean Peninsula,” Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for the Russian foreign ministry, told a news briefing in Moscow.
“We urge all sides to exercise maximum caution. Given the arms build-up in the region, any rash move or even an unintended incident could spark a military conflict.”
The US and South Korea began long-planned joint military exercises on Monday, heightening tensions with Pyongyang which called the drills a “reckless” step towards nuclear conflict.
Moscow did not say how many aircraft had taken part or when the mission had taken place.
“Our long-range aviation pilots, according to an established plan, regularly carry out flights over neutral waters over the Atlantic, the Arctic, the Black Sea and the Pacific Ocean from their bases and from tactical airfields,” the defense ministry said in the same statement.
It said the TU-95MS bombers were refueled in mid-air during the mission, and that during parts of the route they had been escorted by South Korean and Japanese military jets.
Russia, which shares a border with North Korea, has repeatedly voiced concerns about rising tensions on the Korean Peninsula caused by Pyongyang’s nuclear missile program, and has also complained about possible plans by Japan to deploy a US anti-missile system on its soil.
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