Russia fires warning shots at British warship in a Black Sea territorial water confrontation
Russian military forces fired warning shots at a British warship in a confrontation in the Black sea, near the coast of Crimea, Russian Defense Ministry has reported. The United Kingdom did not deny that the ship was passing through the territorial waters of Crimea on its way from Ukraine to Georgia but insisted that it did not cross into the territory of Russia, as 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 demonstration of the West’s solidarity with Ukraine has resulted in an act of confrontation.
Russian warships and aircraft opened warning fire in the direction of the British Navy destroyer HMS Defender. According to Novaya Gazeta reports, the incident took place on June 23 in the Black Sea near Cape Fiolent in Crimea.
According to the Russian Ministry of Defense, the British ship violated the Russian state border, and, thus, an SU-24M bomber fired several warning shots and four high-explosive fragmentation bombs were dropped in the direction of the destroyer.
In addition, border patrol ships opened warning fire.
The British ship “did not react to the warning”, however, after the warning shots, the Defender left the territorial waters of Russia, Russian Defense Ministry explained.
The British military attaché in Moscow was summoned to the Russian Ministry of Defense because of the incident.
The British Department of Defense said that the Defender passed through the territorial waters of Ukraine in accordance with international law. It was not subjected to shelling, there was no bombing in its direction.
Video released by Russian Ministry of Defense:
BBC Air Force correspondent Jonathan Beale who was aboard the Defender at the time of the incident, has provided his own account of events. According to him, the ship which was sailing from the port of Odesa to Georgia was scheduled to sail off the coast of Crimea, which Moscow considers to be a part of Russia’s territory, while the rest of the world believes that it belongs to Ukraine.
“We have just finished crossing the territorial waters of the Russian-occupied Crimea. This was a deliberate move by the Royal Navy ship Defender, which was heading for Georgia. Command says he was following an internationally recognized sea route.
At times, the Royal Navy destroyer HMS Defender was accompanied by more than 20 Russian aircrafts, and there were warnings from the ships of the Russian coast guards. We heard shots too, but I think they were out of range.
The Defender continued to sail in the territorial waters near Crimea, in a 12-mile zone – we saw the coast – 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 time of the passage, the crew of the Defender was on high alert, at their posts, and at some point, they put on protective gear in case of a firefight.
“The British Royal Navy is to be commended for its support of the principle of freedom of navigation in international waters”, retired General Ben Hodges, former commander of NATO forces in Europe, told the Russian service of BBC 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 that the Royal Navy and other NATO allies have thought of everything and developed a plan in case of different circumstances. 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 pass through its waters without provoking the Russians too much is an important way to show that the law is above the forceful seizure of land (and sea)”, Russia expert at the British Royal Institute for Defense Research Mark Galeotti stated.
Galeotti notes that the action of the HMS Defender in the Black Sea was just a demonstration of support to Ukraine and a protest against the annexation of Crimea.
In turn, independent Russian military observer Pavel Felgenhauer believes that the Russian military which does not like the regular international Sea Breeze exercises in the Black Sea and the presence of Western warships in the region 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 sailing through the 12-mile limit and take a direct course through territorial and international waters. This is permitted by the 1982 Convention, which the Soviet Union, and, by definition, Russia, have ratified. Therefore, it was a provocation from Moscow. Although, perhaps, the British are not entirely innocent either”, the military observer told the Voice of America.
Tensions in the Black Sea
The Defender incident is not the first case of close contact between the military of Russia 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 occurred without an active response from the Russian military.
The international Ukrainian-American 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.