Russia says warning shots deter UK warship; London denies it

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

MOSCOW (AP) — Russia said one of its warships in the Black Sea fired warning shots and a warplane dropped bombs Wednesday to force a British destroyer out of an area near Crimea that Moscow claims as its territorial waters, but Britain denied that account and insisted its ship wasn’t fired upon.

It was the first time since the Cold War that Moscow acknowledged using live ammunition to deter a NATO warship, reflecting the growing risk of military incidents amid soaring tensions between Russia and the West.

The Russian Defense Ministry said a patrol ship fired warning shots after the HMS Defender had ignored a notice against intrusion and sailed 3 kilometers (1.6 nautical miles) into Russia’s territorial waters near Sevastopol, the main Russian naval base in Crimea. It said a Russian Su-24 bomber also dropped four bombs ahead of the vessel to persuade the Defender to change course. Minutes later, the Defender left Russian waters, the ministry said.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova denounced the “rude British provocation that defies international law,” and said London’s ambassador was being summoned. The Defense Ministry said it also called in the U.K. military attache in Moscow to protest the destroyer’s “dangerous move” and urged British authorities to investigate the crew’s actions.

Britain’s Ministry of Defense denied the Defender had been fired on or was in Russian waters, but had been in Ukrainian waters.

“No warning shots have been fired at HMS Defender,” it said in a statement. “The Royal Navy ship is conducting innocent passage through Ukrainian territorial waters in accordance with international law.”

Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014, a move not recognized by most countries, gaining access to its long Black Sea coast. Russia has chafed at NATO warships visiting near Crimea as destabilizing. In April, it declared a broader area off Crimea closed to foreign naval ships.

“We believe the Russians were undertaking a gunnery exercise in the Black Sea and provided the maritime community with prior warning of their activity,” the British Ministry of Defense said.

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