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Japan says Russia war plane violates air space

TOKYO/MOSCOW (Reuters) - Japan protested to Moscow after a Russian military plane violated Japanese air space over the Izu Islands on Saturday, a Japanese Foreign Ministry official said.

The Foreign Ministry told Moscow to investigate the case and sought an explanation, the official said.

The Russian warplane flew over the isle of Sofugan, about 650 km (400 miles) south of Tokyo, around 7:30 a.m. (2230 GMT on Friday), the official said.

“We strongly protest against the violation,” the official said.

Russia said four turbo-prop TU-95 “Bear” strategic bombers went on a routine 10-hour mission over the Pacific and were accompanied by Japanese and U.S. war planes.

“All flights of the Russian Air Force were carried out in accordance with international air space regulations without breaching the other states’ borders,” Air Force spokesman Alexander Drobyshevsky told Interfax news agency.

The TU-95, Russia’s longest serving bomber, is capable of carrying AS-15 “Kent” cruise missiles which can deliver a nuclear warhead. The air force did not say if the aircraft involved were carrying live weapons.

Russia last violated Japanese air space in January 2006, when a Russian plane flew over Rebun Island off the coast of Hokkaido, a major island in the north, the Japanese official said.

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Kyodo news agency reported that 22 Japanese fighter jets were scrambled to deal with the intrusion.

REVIVED POWER

Russia’s air force cut down on long-distance bomber missions during the 1990s because of a shortage of fuel and serviceable aircraft, but last year it resumed regular patrolling outside its borders in a sign its military might was reviving.

Analysts say the missions are a way for the newly-confident and better-funded Russian military to flex its muscles.

Russia has resumed 24-hour strategic air patrols over its territory and carried out long-range air missions over international airspace, nudging close to other NATO member states.

On January 22, two Russian long-range “Blackjack” bombers flew to the Bay of Biscay, off the coasts of NATO members France and Spain, to test-launch missiles.

NATO defense chiefs asked Russia on Friday for advanced warning of military exercises and repeated a call for Moscow to tone down its rhetoric in disputes with NATO members.

President Vladimir Putin on Friday delivered an address with long passages of tough rhetoric aimed at the West, including accusing the United States of unleashing a new arms race.

Japan and Russia have been locked in a decades-old territorial dispute that has prevented the two sides from signing a peace treaty putting a formal end to World War Two. Japan is not a NATO member.

Despite the long-standing row, Russia and Japan have been trying to expand ties. Russia is keen for funds to develop its far eastern regions, while Japan is eager to tap Russia’s booming oil industry to reduce its reliance on Middle Eastern energy.

Putin has offered new talks to resolve the territorial dispute, prompting Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda to consider a visit to Moscow.

Fukuda said earlier in the week he had received a letter in which Putin had expressed his willingness to end the dispute.

Reporting by Chikafumi Hodo and Gleb Bryanski; editing by Sami Aboudi

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