Russian Fighters Intercept US Bomber Near Disputed Island

Island of Iturup is claimed by Russia and Japan

On Sunday, Russian Su-35S fighters were deployed to the island of Iturup in the Sea of Okhotsk to intercept a US B-52 Stratofortress bomber nearing Russian-claimed airspace. Russian media initially reported the incident.

US officials are now confirming the matter, saying that the bomber was still in international airspace at the time, and therefore did not violate any international laws. A plane being intercepted, especially a bomber, when technically in international airspace but approaching claimed territory, is not particularly unusual.

Iturup, also known as Eterof, is one of the southernmost Kuril Islands, and has been legally part of Russia, albeit disputed, since the end of WW2. Japan still claims ownership of the island, and considers it part of Hokkaido Prefecture.

At the end of the war, Russia expelled the Japanese residents of the island, claiming it as part of post-war claims to Kuril. Japan argues to this day that the southernmost islands aren’t part of Kuril and shouldn’t have traded hands. Russia has been open to talks on the matter, but only if Japan goes into it conceding that they were right to claim the islands.

The island has a reserve airfield for military planes, and can be an issue with the US military presence in Japan. Indeed, President Putin has blamed the US presence for the lack of diplomatic progress on the territory dispute.

On top of Russia and Japan, the ethnic Ainu population has also complained that the island is really theirs, as they were there before settlers from either major power got there.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is Senior Editor for He has 20 years of experience in foreign policy research and his work has appeared in The American Conservative, Responsible Statecraft, Forbes, Toronto Star, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Providence Journal, Washington Times, and the Detroit Free Press.