Russia claims it fired warning shots and dropped bombs in the path of the British destroyer the HMS Defender in the Black Sea. London denies that any shots were fired. (file photo)
Moscow and London continue to give conflicting descriptions of an incident in the Black Sea, with Russia warning it is prepared to fire on warships entering territorial waters it claims around Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, which Moscow seized in 2014.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on June 24 that British Ambassador Deborah Bronner was summoned and will be handed a demarche — a stern telling off in diplomatic terms — over the incident, which happened a day earlier.
Moscow said its warship fired warning shots and a military plane dropped bombs in the path of the British destroyer the HMS Defender to force it to change course from the area near the Crimean city of Sevastopol.
Britain’s Defense Ministry denied the HMS Defender had been fired on or was in Russian waters, stressing that it had been in Ukrainian waters as it travels to Georgia at the east end of the Black Sea.
Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea region in March 2014, sending in troops and staging a referendum denounced as illegitimate by at least 100 countries after Moscow-friendly Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted amid a wave of public protests.
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab reiterated at a meeting with reporters during a visit to Singapore that "no shots were fired" as the British ship was "conducting innocent passage through Ukrainian territorial waters."
“We were doing so in accordance with international law and the Russian characterization is predictably inaccurate."
Zakharova bluntly called the British version of events "barefaced lies."
Meanwhile, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Russia is ready to consider all manner of responses to what he called "provocative actions," while Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov ratcheted up the rhetoric, threatening to "drop bombs" if such incidents are repeated.
Under international maritime law, innocent passage permits a vessel to pass through another state’s territorial waters so long as this does not affect its security.
Furthering tensions, Russia considers areas around the seized Crimean coast to be Russian waters. Western countries deem the Crimea to be part of Ukraine and reject Russia’s claim.
The Black Sea, which Russia uses to project its power in the Mediterranean, has for centuries been a flashpoint between Russia and its competitors such as Turkey, France, Britain and the United States.
British Cabinet member George Eustice said on June 24 in a televised interview that his country’s warships could sail again through the disputed waters around Crimea because Russia’s annexation of Crimea was illegal.
"We never accepted the annexation of Crimea, these were Ukrainian territorial waters," Eustice said.
With reporting by Sky News, dpa, Interfax, TASS, and AP