Moscow angrily denied Seoul's report of the encounter, claiming that South Korean military jets had ruthlessly intercepted two of his bombers during a first military exercise with China over neutral waters.
Two Chinese long-range bombers flew with the Russians as part of a joint exercise that, according to Beijing, complied with international law. A Russian general denied the delivery of warning shots and said the A-50's involvement should only support the overall mission.
The islands could be exactly the wedge that Moscow needs to further fragment the United States' most important security relations in Asia and divert Washington from other parts of the world that are currently on Russia's agenda.
Like South Korea, Japan has intercepted fighter jets to intercept Russian and Chinese fighter jets. As in South Korea, Japan agreed that the Russian A-50 Air Traffic Control (AWACS) had violated airspace. But here the similarities end.
After Japan, the islands belong to Japan. According to Japanese officials, Russian jets had entered Japanese airspace ̵
The highly controversial incident occurs as Washington seeks to bring South Korea together and Japan, its two closest Asian allies, as partners to counter increasing Chinese influence in Asia, the Pacific and beyond.
A dispute from the 17th century century
A primer from the Japanese Foreign Ministry on the islands claims that they have not been part of Japan since t The 1600s when ships were sent there to hunt sea lions and harvest abalone.
The formal incorporation into Japan took place in 1905 when the Japanese Cabinet recognized the islands as part of Shimane Prefecture to license and tax the islands as Japanese in the 1952 San Francisco Treaty, which established the post-war order in Asia , The US has explicitly excluded the islands from other areas from which Japan, which occupied the Korean Peninsula during World War II, should return to Seoul.
South Korea claims its claims go back hundreds of years before Japan. ] The Dokdo Research Institute in Seoul cites 15th century texts which designate the islands as Korean. The Dokdo website adds that Japanese Navy maps of the late 19th century depict the islands as Korean. And in 1906, Korea officially made the islands part of Gyeongsangnam-do Province, it is said.
South Korea consolidated its claim to control of the islands in the 1950s, when it stationed a rotating contingent of peninsulas-permanent armed guards there.
The islands, which are largely barren and uninhabited, continued to divide the two countries during the post-war period.
An Instrument for Russia
Japan and South Korea have been unable to resolve the Dokdo-Takeshima conflict through an international legal forum that forms the basis of what Washington calls a "rule-based order" governing as the US proceeds conflicts, for example, in the South China Sea or Crimea.
If they can not resolve their own quarrel, can they really help Washington advocate the "rule-based order" elsewhere?
And analysts say this is a wedge that Russia could exploit.
"The Russian intention may have been to prevent America's Asian allies from working closely with the United States in other parts of the world, which could affect Russian interests," said Timothy Heath, Senior Analyst, Rand Corporation, Washington , Tank.
The launches on Thursday took place when US National Security Advisor John Bolton – a well-known hawk in North Korea – visited South Korea to discuss bilateral strategic issues.
"Bolton's main intention was to involve the Asian allies in their efforts to monitor and pressure Iran, which Russia rejects," Heath said.
The conflict between Japan and South Korea could complicate these discussions, forcing the US to spend more time mediating between allies in Asia and preparing responses to the incident, Heath said, providing Russia with a secret service bonanza another analyst.
The Russian A-50, allegedly flown into the controversial airspace, is equipped with a number of radar and surveillance instruments that may recognize important details of how South Korea could deploy its forces in a full-blown combat situation communicate with them.
"The A-50 will have collected electronic signal information from the radio communication radars on the interception aircraft, the ground-based air surveillance radars and the command and control network," said Peter Layton, former pilot and staff of the Royal Australian Air Force at the Griffith Asia Institute.
"This mission will make (Russia) a comprehensive map of the national air defense system of the ROK," he said.
Other analysts point to another message from Tuesday's incident to Washington.
"The most important strategic aspect of this incident is the emphasis on a new and higher level of Sino-Russian military cooperation," said Carl Schuster, former US Navy captain and former operations leader of the US Pacific Joint Intelligence Center.
Artyom Lukin, a researcher for international relations at Far Eastern Federal University in Vladivostok said Moscow and Beijing have steadily increased what he described as a "quasi-alliance". He described the incident as an incident aimed at demonstrating their shared power "to send a message to Tokyo, Seoul and Washington".
Lukin called the Russia-China mission "courageous and provocative".