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Russian helicopter enters Japanese airspace

The Japanese Ministry of Defence (MoD) announced on 2 March that a Russian helicopter entered the country's northern airspace, off the eastern coast of Hokkaido island.

The unidentified helicopter, which was scrambled by an unspecified number of Japanese Air Self-Defense Force fighter aircraft around 1023 h local time, flew over Japan's territorial waters off the Nemuro Peninsula, which is located near a cluster of four islands northeast of Hokkaido that are occupied by Russia and contended by Japan.

The latest incursion comes amid heightened tensions over the conflict in Ukraine, with the Japanese MoD stating on its Twitter account that “[…] we will take all possible precautions and surveillance”. On the same day, government spokesperson Hirokazu Matsuno said during a routine news conference that Tokyo had sent an official complaint to the Russian embassy, calling for such acts to stop.

The MoD noted that, in addition to the Ukrainian conflict, Russia had already intensified its military exercises in the Pacific region, specifically in the Sea of Okhotsk and the airspace around Japan, to possibly demonstrate its ability to operate simultaneously on both the European (western) and Pacific (eastern) theatres.

In early February this year, the MoD had noted 24 Russian military ships operating in the Sea of Japan and south of the Sea of Okhotsk, which it described as an ‘unusual' large-scale military exercise, while Russia was also building up forces at the borders with Ukraine.

The MoD has not released any additional information on the incident at the time of publication. Nonetheless, the Japan's Joint Staff Office had tweeted on 1 March that the risk of potential violation of the national airspace was high.

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