Japan has issued a protest to Russia after Tokyo had intercepted a Russian aircraft, which violated Japan’s airspace for about 16 seconds, according to Japanese officials.
The foreign ministry issued the protest immediately after the aircraft entered Japanese airspace off the northernmost main island of Hokkaido, which is near disputed island area, on Tuesday afternoon.
“We made the protest through the Russian embassy in Tokyo,” a Japanese foreign ministry official told AFP on Wednesday.
He added that the Kremlin did not confirm the case, saying it would check facts later.
Japan scrambled four fighter jets to chase the intruder, which is believed to be Russian aircraft judging by its course, according to a defense ministry official.
If Russia confirms the information, it would be the first time a Russian aircraft has invaded Japanese airspace since two years ago, when two Tu-95 Russian strategic bombers were intercepted in August 2013, the Japanese foreign ministry added.
After hovering in Japanese airspace for 16 full seconds, the aircraft headed off towards the Kuril island chain, which is a disputed area between Moscow and Tokyo.
Russia has been controlling the islands ever since Soviet soldiers seized them after Japan surrendered in World War II.
Due to the seven-decade-long dispute, Russia and Japan have had somewhat cold relations, while the countries still haven’t singed a formal peace treaty.
The Russian aircraft crossed a halfway line between Nemuro peninsula and one of the four disputed Kuril islands – known as Kunashir in Russia and Kunashiri in Japan, according to a map published on the Japanese defense ministry’s official website.
Japan’s FM upcoming visit to Russia is ‘historical’
Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida is scheduled to visit Moscow next week in order to hold talks about a possible Russian President Vladimir Putin’s coming to Tokyo this year, according to the daily Sankei Shimbun newspaper. The visit has already been crowned as ‘historical’ in terms of relations between the two countries.
Kishida was scheduled to visit Russia back in August, but was later rescheduled after Japan expressed its outrage over Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s visit to one of the disputed Kuril islands.
Mr. Kishida plans to discuss the following three important subjects with the Russian president, according to Xinhua World.
First of all, the subject of Vladimir Putin’s visit to Tokyo will be brought up during the meeting. Last year, the Japanese government expressed its hope that Putin would visit Japan.
However, Tokyo is being pressured by Washington, which demands Japan to cancel Putin’s visit. Meanwhile, Japan joined the U.S. and Europe in economic sanctions against Moscow, which is why the visit was postponed.
U.S. pressures Japan to be against Russia
The Kremlin has repeatedly stated that in order to make Putin’s trip to Japan possible, Fumio Kishida must first visit Russia himself and handle ‘all things’. Otherwise, the Japanese government will have to take the blame for the failed visit.
Second of all, the Japanese Foreign Minister wants to solve with Russia the matter of disputed islands. Kuril islands, which comprise of Kunashir, Iturup (both of which are claimed by Japan), as well as Shikotan and the Habomai islets.
Third of all, Kishida wants to exchange his opinion with the Kremlin about the sanctions. Some analysts believe that Japan hopes to see warming relations with Russia and was not eager to impose sanctions against Moscow for annexing Crimea. However, the U.S. influenced Japan into doing it, according to analysts.
Moscow wants the Japanese government to lift all the sanctions, while Washington, on the contrary, hopes that Japan will maintain its strict stance, according to Kyodo News agency. Therefore, Tokyo finds itself between the two fires and will probably be faced with a tough choice soon.
Record number of Chinese aircraft invasions into Japan’s airspace
However, it must be noted that Japan scrambles aircraft hundreds of times per year in order to secure its airspace from invasions, which come mostly from Russia and also China these days.
Japan scrambled jets the record-breaking 464 times this year through March against Chinese aircraft alone. Over the same period, Tokyo deployed its jets 473 times against Russian aircraft.
The relations between China and Japan haven’t been that friendly either. The longstanding territorial dispute in the East China Sea creates difficulties for diplomatic ties between the two Asian countries.
After the West had imposed sanctions against Russia, Moscow turned to the East, but not to Japan, which was among those putting sanctions into effect, but to China.
Tensions between the Japan and Russia arose in August after Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev had visited the disputed islands. Russia’s vice minister Dmitry Rogozin responded to Tokyo’s protests, saying that Japanese politicians should consider committing seppuku.
Japan wants warmer relations with Russia, but can’t
Meanwhile, Putin approved Medvedev’s visit to the disputed island in order to send Tokyo a singal that ‘we can be strict too’. It was also interpreted as a ‘you have a sanction coalition, while we have the heritage of the World War’ signal.
Speaking at a meeting of The Group of Seven in May this year, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he would like to begin cooperating with Russia only because Moscow and Beijing are uniting their efforts against Tokyo.
However, many analysts have doubts in the durability of the China-Russia alliance, noting that a dialogue with Tokyo would benefit both of the sides.
And while Japan hopes for warmer relations with Russia, its hopes are not that easy to accomplish because of the U.S. If Putin’s potential visit to Tokyo creates such outrage in Washington, then Tokyo’s desire to strengthen ties with Moscow is clearly impossible to become real.