Russia’s Defense Ministry said its armed forces fired warning shots at a British destroyer that was violating what it considers its territorial waters near Crimea, but the U.K. government said its ship was “innocently” passing through Ukrainian waters and that no shots were fired.
The ministry said HMS Defender made it three kilometers into Russian waters before a Russian vessel issued a warning, to which the destroyer didn’t respond. A Russian patrol ship then fired warning shots and soon afterward an Su-24M aircraft from the Black Sea Fleet dropped bombs along the path of the destroyer, the ministry said. About a half-hour after entering Russian waters, the British Navy ship left, it added.
But the U.K.’s Ministry of Defense said in a tweet that no shots were fired. Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said in a statement posted on Twitter that the destroyer entered an internationally recognized traffic separation corridor before exiting. “As is routine, Russian vessels shadowed her passage and she was made aware of training exercises in her wider vicinity,” he said.
He later told a parliamentary committee that the ship was “hailed” by Russian authorities and informed of a Russian training exercise nearby.
“These are the things which come and go with Russia. Disinformation, misinformation is something that we see regularly,” he said. “We’re not surprised by this.” Mr. Wallace said the U.K. Ministry of Defense last year denied Russian claims that its navy and air force expelled the British ship HMS Dragon from waters off the coast of Crimea.
Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 from Ukraine, but most governments, including the U.K.’s, still recognize the territory as belonging to Ukraine. British, U.S. and other nations’ warships regularly sail into the Black Sea to affirm their rights of passage in international waters.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said it regarded the actions of the British destroyer as dangerous and a gross violation of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. The ministry called on British authorities to conduct a thorough investigation and said the defense attaché at the British Embassy in Moscow had been summoned.
Mr. Wallace, the U.K. defense secretary, said the British ambassador in Russia hadn’t been summoned.
Daragh McDowell, principal Russia analyst at risk consulting firm Verisk Maplecroft, said in a note that the British warship’s mission “was essentially a political one aimed at signaling clearly and unequivocally that the U.K. continued not to recognize the annexation of Crimea by sailing in what Russia claims are its territorial waters.”
Sergei Modestov, vice president of the Russian Academy of Military Sciences in Moscow, criticized the U.K. for not understanding the history of the Crimean peninsula and said the British were looking for trouble.
“The invasion of the territorial waters of our country is, of course, a provocative action that does not contribute to the strengthening of strategic stability, the preservation of peace and mutual trust,” Mr. Modestov said. “The responsibility for this rests entirely with the British side.”
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