Russia defends bomber flights near Japan

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Russia on Monday denied that its strategic bombers had violated Japanese air space and accused Tokyo of trying to stir up the two sides' long-standing territorial row.

The Russian foreign ministry confirmed that two of its air force's Tu-95MS nuclear-capable bombers had conducted exercises around the Pacific on Thursday.

But it stressed that the exercises were held over neutral waters and argued that "such flights are a standard practice for the armed forces of any state, including -- as far as we understand -- Japan."

Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba had on Friday accused Russia of flying the bombers around his country in a bid to put diplomatic pressure on the new Tokyo government.

The two countries are in dispute over Russian-held islands on the fringe of the Okhotsk Sea called the southern Kurils in Russia but also claimed by Japan.

Russia said suggestions that "Russia harboured hostile intentions against this neighbouring country... are completely groundless."

Such charges "leave us bewildered and lead us to believe that some forces in Japan are using any excuses -- even the most far fetched -- to feed anti-Russian sentiments," the ministry statement said.

The row over the Kurils, which Soviet troops seized in the closing days of World War II in 1945, has prevented the two countries from signing a treaty to formally end the conflict and hurt bilateral trade.

© 2011 AFP

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