24 Jun 2021
Russian military forces fired warning shots at a British warship during a clash in the Black Sea near the Crimean coast, the Russian Defense Ministry reported. The UK did not deny that the ship was crossing Crimean territorial waters on the route from Ukraine to Georgia, but insisted that it did not pass through Russian territory, because the country still does not recognize the annexed region of Crimea as part of the Russian Federation. This incident marks the first time that the manifestation of the West’s solidarity with Ukraine has resulted in an act of confrontation.
Russian warships and planes opened warning fire on the British Navy destroyer HMS Defender. According to reports from Novaya Gazeta, the incident took place on June 23 in the Black Sea near Cape Fiolent in Crimea.
According to the Russian Defense Ministry, the British ship violated the Russian state border and as a result an SU-24M bomber fired several warning shots and four highly explosive cluster bombs were dropped towards the destroyer. .
In addition, border patrol vessels opened the warning light.
The British ship “did not react to the warning”, however, after the warning shots, the Defender left Russian territorial waters, the Russian Defense Ministry said.
The British military attaché in Moscow was summoned to the Russian Defense Ministry due to the incident.
The UK Ministry of Defense said the Defender crossed Ukraine’s territorial waters in accordance with international law. He was not bombarded, there was no bombardment in his direction.
Video released by the Russian Defense Ministry:
BBC Air Force correspondent Jonathan Beale, who was aboard the Defender at the time of the incident, provided his own account of the events. According to him, the ship that sailed from the port of Odessa to Georgia was to sail off the coast of Crimea, which Moscow considers part of Russian territory, while the rest of the world thinks it belongs to Ukraine.
“We have just finished crossing the territorial waters of Russian-occupied Crimea. This was a deliberate decision by the Royal Navy Defender ship, which was heading for Georgia. The command says it was following an internationally recognized sea route.
Sometimes the Royal Navy destroyer HMS Defender was accompanied by more than 20 Russian planes, and warnings were issued by Russian Coast Guard ships. We heard gunshots too, but I think they were out of range.
The Defender continued to navigate in territorial waters near Crimea, within 12 miles – the coast was seen – and did not change course. We entered international waters but Russian planes were still flying over us, ”the journalist said.
According to him, throughout the passage, the Defender crew were on maximum alert, at their posts, and at one point, they donned protective gear in the event of a firefight.
“The British Royal Navy is to be congratulated for its support for the principle of freedom of navigation in international waters,” said retired General Ben Hodges, former commander of NATO forces in Europe, on the BBC’s Russian service. News. “Russian encroachments on Crimea are illegal and no one else recognizes them.”
When asked if such an action could be dangerous for the British ship, Hodges said: “I am sure the Royal Navy and other NATO allies have thought of everything and made a plan in the event of the circumstances. different. This is part of an adequate response to Russia’s actions ”.
“According to international law, Crimea, of course, is not Russian, since its annexation has not been recognized. The fact that ships continue to cross its waters without provoking the Russians too much is an important way of showing that the law is above the forced seizure of land (and seas), ”Russia expert at the British Royal Institute for Defense Research Mark Galeotti stated.
Galeotti notes that the action of HMS Defender in the Black Sea was only a demonstration of support for Ukraine and a protest against the annexation of Crimea.
In turn, independent Russian military observer Pavel Felgenhauer believes that the Russian army, which does not like regular international Sea Breeze exercises in the Black Sea and the presence of Western warships in the region, have carried out a planned provocation against the British warship.
“There is a right of free passage, which the British destroyer followed. It is possible to bypass Cape Fiolent without crossing the 12-mile limit and to take a direct course in territorial and international waters. This is permitted by the 1982 Convention, which the Soviet Union and, by definition, Russia, ratified. It was therefore a provocation from Moscow. Although, perhaps, the British are not entirely innocent either, ”the military observer told Voice of America.
Tensions in the Black Sea
The Defender incident is not the first case of close contact between the Russian military and NATO member states in the Black Sea. Since 2014, when Russia announced the annexation of Crimea, not a single international exercise involving US or NATO warships near the peninsula has taken place without an active response from the Russian military.
The Ukrainian-American international exercise Sea Breeze has been held since 1997. This year, a total of 21 exercises will be held between June 28 and July 10, with the participation of military personnel from 32 countries.