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Russian AWACS Probes Japan: Japanese fighters intercepted a Russian AWACS for the first time near Japan's northeastern coastline, according to foreign press reports. The A-50 "Mainstay" accompanied a flight of two Tu-95 strategic bombers flanked by a pair of Su-24 reconnaissance aircraft, reported Japan's Kyodo News Service. Entering the Sea of Japan near the Japanese mainland and the northern island of Hokkaido on Wednesday, the aircraft triggered a scramble of Japan Air Self Defense Force F-15s and Mitsubishi F-2 fighters. Russian air force spokesman Col. Vladimir Drik asserted that the aircraft operated in "accordance with international rules on use of airspace above international waters" and were "not violating the borders of other states," reported Russian state-owned RIA Novosti. The Russian flights came on the day after Japan marked "Northern Territories Day," demanding the return of the Kurile Islands, located north of Hokkaido, from Russia.