Russia has been carrying out controversial patrol flights around Japan, prompting officials there to call for them to stop.
The Russian Air Force bomber flights roughly coincided with the latest twist in a long-term land dispute, according to Koichiro Gemba - the Japanese Minister of Foreign Affairs. Speaking to media representatives on 9 September 2011, Gemba explained how the flights had alarmed the population, causing "suspicion".
"I requested that (Russia) refrain from taking provocative action", he added.
A previous Russian Air Force bomber airspace infringement occurred in early 2008 when, according to local media reports, the Japanese Air Self Defence Force launched a total of 22 combat jets in response.
Russian Bear Flights Around Japan
Reportedly, the most recent flights did not see the aircraft, which were Tupolev TU-95MS Bears, violate Japanese airspace. Even so, the Russian Bear flights around Japan have still been regarded as an act of provocation.
The TU-95 is one of the longest-serving military aircraft designs and first flew as long ago as 1952 - the same year the iconic B-52 Stratofortress made its first flight. It's envisaged that the Bear will remain in Russian Air Force service up until 2040, raising the possibility of yet more patrol flights in coming years.
Russia has had a long-term policy of performing patrol flights around and into the airspace of other nations, especially during the days of the Cold War. Typically, air forces in the countries targeted by these Russian bomber patrol flights would send up fighter jets to counter the threat and escort the ‘enemy' aircraft out of the affected airspace.
Russian Bear Bomber Flights
In October 2010, Armed Forces International reported on one of the most recent examples of these Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) scrambles, involving TU-95 Bears and RAF Tornado F3s. Earlier in the year, new data was published that stated that, between 2006 and 2010, more than 60 RAF QRA scrambles had been undertaken, many in response to Russian Bear bomber flights.
The Russian/Japanese land dispute concerns a group of islands, the southern Kurils, which are presently controlled by Russia. Japan believes itself to be the rightful owner of them and, as such, the ownership arguments continue to rage. The situation deteriorated in late 2010 when Russian President Dmitry Medvedev toured the islands - something none of his predecessors had done.
The southern Kurils dispute is deeply historic, in the sense it's been ongoing since the end of WW2. As a result, Russia and Japan remain technically engaged in hostilities, in the absence of a formal resolution document.