Russia claimed that one of its warships fired warning shot and a warplane landed bombs in the way of the British destroyer Defender Wednesday, to force it from the waters around the Crimean city Sevastopol. Britain refuted this account and claimed that its ship was not being fired upon.
This was the first time that Moscow had admitted to using live ammunition in a NATO warship deterrent since the Cold War. It also highlighted the growing threat of military collisions between Russia and the West.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov stated Thursday that "the inviolability Russian borders is an absolute imperative," and that it will be protected by all diplomatic, political, and military means if necessary.
Ryabkov mockingly suggested that the British navy change the name of its destroyer from Defender, to Aggressor. He also warned that those who attempt to test Russia's strength will be taking high-risk risks.
Ryabkov stated that "we may appeal to reason" and demanded respect for international law in remarks made by Russian news agencies. "If it doesn’t help, then we may drop bombs, not just in the direction but on target, if our colleagues don’t get it."
Dmitry Peskov, a Kremlin spokesperson, condemned what he called a "deliberate provocation" by Britain. He also supported the harsh warning.
Peskov stated to reporters that if unacceptable provocative acts are repeated or if they go too far, there is no way to legally protect the Russian Federation's borders.
The Russian Defense Ministry stated Wednesday that a patrol vessel fired warning shots following the HMS Defender's failure to obey a notice against intrusion. It sailed three kilometers (1.6 nautical mile) into Russian territorial waters close to Sevastopol. This is the main Russian naval base located in Crimea. The ministry said that a Russian Su-24 bomber dropped four bombs in front of the Defender to force it to change its course. The ministry reported that the Defender was seen leaving Russian waters minutes later.
Britain denied that the Defender was attacked or that bombs were placed in its path. The ship was traveling through a well-known international travel lane, and it remained in Ukrainian waters. Despite Russia's 2014 annexe of Crimea, the U.K. recognizes Crimea as part Ukraine, just like the rest of the world.
Boris Johnson, British Prime Minister, would not confirm whether he personally approved Defender's voyage. However, he suggested that the Royal Navy was trying to make a point by choosing that route.
Johnson said Thursday that the important thing was that we don’t recognize Russia’s annexation Crimea. This is part of a sovereign Ukrainian land." Johnson spoke to reporters during a visit at an army barracks near England. It was right that we would uphold the law and follow freedom of navigation the same way we did. We took the shortest route from two points and that's exactly what we did.
He said that U.K.-Russia relations are at an historic low and that he could recall times when things were much worse in his own life.
Thursday saw Deborah Bronnert, British Ambassador, visit the Russian Foreign Ministry. The Ministry lodged a formal protest.
The ministry stated that "it was especially stressed that if such provocations are repeated, then the British side will bear all responsibility for any consequences."
Adm. Nikolai Yevmenov (Russian navy chief) said that the British destroyer's actions were clearly provocative. He also noted that the ship ignored warnings to try and test Russia's resolve.
He told reporters in St. Petersburg that they came to see how he acts. "And they only reacted the power of weapons. To stop the provocation, our navy responded in a safe and competent manner.
Russia closed the Crimea area to foreign ships from April to November. This move drew protests from both Ukraine and the West.
In a written statement to Parliament, Ben Wallace, the U.K. Defense Secretary, stated that he had described a Russian "live-fire gunnery exercise" as "out of range" and no threat to the Defender's position. He said that she was also being overflowed by Russian warplanes at 500 feet, making maneuvers that were neither professional nor safe.
Wallace acknowledged that the Defender once maneuvered to avoid a Russian coastguard vessel's hazard, before taking her intended course.
BBC HMS Defender report did not include bombs dropping, but it showed the ship being surrounded by Russian military aircraft. The radio threat also indicated that the ship would be changed of course and fired upon.
The Russian Defense Ministry released footage from a Russian warplane as well as a drone. It also showed Russian planes flying near the Defender, but it didn't show any bombs being dropped or warning shots being fired. A Russian coast guard vessel fired warning shots at the Defender from a distance in a second video that was released on Thursday.
Mikhail Khodaryonok is a former Russian army colonel and works as a military analyst for Moscow. He claimed that the Russian warplane dropped bombs far away from the British ship. He claimed that British denials that Russia fired warning shots and dropped bombs in pursuit of the Defender was an attempt to save face.
Khodaryonok stated in a telephone interview that "they couldn't admit they were forced to alter course and that they knew of a threat that weapon would be used against their," Khodaryonok added. "The Russian side demanded that the former ruler of seas change their course and they refused to accept this loss of face," Khodaryonok said.