(MOSCOW) Russia claimed it fired warning shots on Wednesday against a British destroyer in the Black Sea that Moscow said had entered its territorial waters off Crimea, a charge denied by London.
This Russian-British clash, if it occurs, will be first and comes a few days before the Sea Breeze 2021 military exercises, which will take place from June 28 to July 10 in the Black Sea. It includes the United States, other NATO countries and Ukraine, which Moscow views very bleakly.
According to the Russian version, the British destroyer HMS Defender entered the waters off Crimea, a peninsula annexed by Moscow in 2014, on Wednesday and “received a warning to use weapons if Russian borders were violated.”
The Russian Ministry of Defense said the British ship “did not respond to the warning,” so a Russian “border patrol ship” “fired warning shots” and a Su-24ma “carried out a precautionary bombing along the destroyer’s route.”
The British ship then left Russian waters, ending the incident that lasted more than 20 minutes, according to Moscow.
Moscow denounced the “dangerous actions” of the HMS Defender crew, and demanded that London investigate the incident. The British ambassador to Russia will also be summoned to the Foreign Office, after the British military attache was summoned earlier.
For its part, the British authorities denied the incident. According to the MoD, “No warning shot was fired at HMS Defender” and “the claim that bombs were dropped on its way” is incorrect.
According to London, the ship was making “innocent passage through Ukrainian territorial waters.” “We believe the Russians were conducting an artillery maneuver in the Black Sea,” the British ministry added on Twitter.
A few hours before the incident, President Vladimir Putin stressed that his country was “concerned by the continued strengthening of NATO’s military capabilities and infrastructure near the Russian borders.”
According to a Royal Navy statement on June 10, HMS Defender was first in the Mediterranean for NATO exercises before “temporarily separating from the task force to carry out its own series of missions in the Black Sea”.
“Over the past few weeks, Portsmouth-based Defender has undergone extensive training and has served on Operation Sea Guardian, NATO’s counter-terrorism mission in the Mediterranean,” the statement read.
Ukrainian, American and British forces conducted small exercises aboard the ship on Wednesday, according to a post by the Ukrainian Defense Ministry on Facebook.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Twitter that he saw in this incident an extension of Moscow’s “aggressive and provocative policy” in the Black and Azov Seas.
This incident occurred off Crimea, a Ukrainian peninsula annexed by Russia in March 2014, which has a naval base there and whose waters have been subject to several incidents in the past.
Russia has conducted several military exercises in the region in recent months, including through the temporary deployment of more than 100,000 troops to the Ukrainian border and to Crimea in April, a show of force that has raised serious tensions with the West.
In 2018, Moscow captured three Ukrainian warships and captured 24 sailors trying to enter the Sea of Azov, which is shared between the two countries. It is the first direct armed incident between the two countries.
Skirmishes involving planes or ships on the Russian border are not rare, especially in times of tension with the West, but warning shots are the first for such incidents.
Most incidents occur in the Baltic Sea or the Arctic, and rarely in the Far East, where Russia announced Wednesday that it had intercepted a US spy plane over the Sea of Okhotsk.
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