The Japanese Defense Ministry in Tokyo has reported that two Russian fighter jets violated the country’s airspace near the northernmost island of Hokkaido on Thursday afternoon. Japan’s own military aircraft scrambled in response to the first such incident by Russia in five years, however, the Soviet government has denied any such intrusion took place, stating that it was simply conducting military maneuvers near the Kuril Islands.
Japan’s Foreign Ministry says it has already filed a complaint with Russia. The incident took place on the same day that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made comments about reaching an agreement with Moscow over the disputed Kurils, which are known as the Northern Territories in Japan, but have been controlled by Russia since the end of World War II. Taking a completely different tone than with China over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands tensions, Abe said he would make efforts to “find a mutually acceptable solution” in order to solve the decades long dispute that prevent the two nations from formerly signing peace agreements.
Former Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori is set to serve as an envoy for Abe and visit Russia later this month to begin discussions over the territorial dispute. A spokesman for Russia’s Defense Ministry has said the country’s military exercises are carried out within international rules over air space, and flights do not violate the borders of other nations. With Abe making clear his intentions to work with Russia on resolving their islands issues, it seems unlikely that Moscow is following China’s example and carrying out sanctioned intrusions with military aircraft in order to provoke. In the interests of giving the benefit of the doubt, Japan and Russia could skip all the protesting and condemnation brouhaha and just recognize that the fighter jets may have made a mistake.