Incidents involving Western aircraft and ships are not uncommon at Russia’s borders, especially during heightened tensions with Washington, Brussels and London, but rarely result in open fire.
The HMS Defender “was given a preliminary warning that weapons would be used if the state borders of the Russian Federation were violated. It did not react to the warning,” the Russian defence ministry said, as quoted by the Interfax news agency.
The ministry added that “a border patrol ship fired warning shots” and a Su-24 aircraft dropped four bombs along the destroyer’s path. It said that the ship then left Russian waters.
But the UK’s defence ministry swiftly denied that the incident had happened at all.
“No warning shots have been fired at HMS Defender. The Royal Navy ship is conducting innocent passage through Ukrainian territorial waters in accordance with international law,” the ministry said.
London said it believed Russia was “undertaking a gunnery exercise” and had provided prior warning of its activity.
After announcing that it had fired warning shots at the HMS Defender — a T45 destroyer — Russia’s defence ministry summoned Britain’s military attache, Interfax reported.
According to Moscow, the incident took place off the coast of Cape Fiolent on Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014, also claiming the peninsula’s coastal waters.
The Royal Navy said earlier this month that the HMS Defender had “peeled away” from its strike group conducting NATO operations in the Mediterranean to carry out “her own set of missions” in the Black Sea.
On Wednesday, UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said in a statement that the HMS Defender had been carrying out a “routine transit from Odesa towards Georgia across the Black Sea”. AFP