UK denies Russian claim that shots were fired at royal navy ship

Russia says it dropped bombs in path of HMS Defender after it entered country’s territory

The HMS Defender, which Moscow said sailed 3km inside Russian territorial waters on Wednesday. File photograph: Ben Mitchell/PA Wire

The HMS Defender, which Moscow said sailed 3km inside Russian territorial waters on Wednesday. File photograph: Ben Mitchell/PA Wire

 

Britain has denied that Russia’s military fired warning shots and dropped bombs in the path of a UK destroyer to force it to leave Russian waters in the Black Sea, amid Kremlin criticism of Nato behaviour near its territory.

The defence ministry in Moscow said HMS Defender sailed 3km inside Russian territorial waters on Wednesday morning and ignored two warning shots from a border guard ship, prompting an Su-24M attack aircraft to drop four bombs ahead of the British ship in a further “precautionary” move.

Four minutes later, and 31 minutes after allegedly entering Russian waters, the destroyer left the area, the Russian defence ministry said.

“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,” Britain’s ministry of defence said in response.

“We believe the Russians were undertaking a gunnery exercise in the Black Sea and provided the maritime community with prior-warning of their activity. No shots were directed at HMS Defender and we do not recognise the claim that bombs were dropped in her path.”

British defence minister Ben Wallace said HMS Defender was on “routine transit from Odessa towards Georgia” and “Russian vessels shadowed her passage and she was made aware of training exercises in her wider vicinity”.

Accusations

Nato members and Russia regularly accuse each other of stoking tension and testing one another’s defences by sending military aircraft and ships close to sensitive border areas, and they have traded accusations in recent months over large-scale war games conducted by both Moscow’s forces and alliance troops.

“We cannot but be concerned by the constant build-up of Nato’s military capabilities and infrastructure near Russia’s borders, and by the alliance’s refusal to constructively consider our proposals to de-escalate tensions and reduce the risk of unpredictable incidents,” Russian president Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday.

Earlier this week, the US Naval Institute’s news website said online data showing the position of HMS Defender and a Dutch warship had been faked to make it appear that they were heading straight for Russia’s main naval base in Crimea.

Ukraine and the United States are now preparing to co-host the Sea Breeze 2021 exercises that are due to start on Monday in the Black Sea, involving 5,000 troops, 32 ships, 40 aircraft and 18 special forces and dive teams from 32 countries.

Ukraine and Russia share the Black and Azov Seas and both have been a flashpoint since the Kremlin seized Crimea in 2014 and fomented a war in eastern Ukraine that has killed about 14,000 people, prompting the pro-western government in Kiev to push for Nato membership.

Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Wednesday that “Russia’s aggressive and provocative actions” proved the need for “a new quality of co-operation between Ukraine and Nato allies in the Black Sea”.