MOSCOW • Russian nuclear-capable strategic bombers have flown a rare mission around the Korean peninsula at the same time that the United States and South Korea are conducting joint military exercises that have infuriated Pyongyang.
Russia, which has said it is strongly against any unilateral US military action on the peninsula, said Tupolev-95MS bombers, codenamed "Bears" by Nato, had flown over the Pacific Ocean, the Sea of Japan/East Sea, the Yellow Sea and the East China Sea, prompting Tokyo and Seoul to scramble jets to escort them.
The mission, which also included planes with advanced intelligence- gathering capabilities, was over international waters and was announced by the Russian Defence Ministry on the same day Moscow complained about the US-South Korean war games.
"The US and South Korea holding yet more large-scale military and naval exercises does not help reduce tensions on the Korean peninsula," Russian foreign ministry spokesman Maria Zakharova told a news briefing in Moscow.
"We urge all sides to exercise maximum caution. Given the arms build-up in the region, any rash move or even an unintended incident could spark a military conflict," she added.
The US and South Korea began their long-planned joint military exercises on Monday, heightening tensions with Pyongyang, which called the drills a "reckless" step towards nuclear conflict.
Meanwhile, Japan yesterday said it would impose additional sanctions against North Korea following the reclusive country's repeated missile launches and unresolved abduction issue.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters that Japan would freeze the assets of six more organisations and two more individuals linked to North Korea. He said they included four Chinese entities and one Chinese individual and two Namibian entities.
"It is extremely important to exert pressure in this form while acting in concert with the US and South Korea," Mr Suga said, adding that it was important to observe United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions.
In Beijing, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hua Chunying did not comment specifically on the Russian mission when asked, reiterating that China hoped all sides could quickly return to talks and appropriately and peacefully resolve the situation.
She, however, expressed "strong dissatisfaction and resolute opposition" to the Japanese sanctions, and that Beijing opposed any unilateral sanctions outside the UNSC framework, especially those targeting Chinese entities and people.
Japan's actions "gravely harm China's interests and judicial sovereignty, and create new political obstacles to improving China-Japan relations", Ms Hua told a daily news briefing.
"China demands that Japan immediately ceases with the relevant mistaken methods. If Japan remains obstinately on this course, it must bear the consequences," she added.