Environment Secretary George Eustice disputed Moscow’s claims that Russian warplanes dropped bombs and a patrol vessel fired warning shots at a British destroyer he claimed entered its waters territories in the Black Sea.
“It’s a very normal thing,” Eustice told Sky News. “It’s quite common, in fact, what was actually happening is that the Russians were doing a shooting exercise and they had been informed about it beforehand, they often do it in this area. So I think that ‘it’s important that we don’t get carried away. “
Russia said the UK’s HMS Defender had traveled three kilometers (1.9 miles) inside what it described as its territory off Cape Fiolent in Crimea just before noon on Wednesday. A nation’s territorial waters extend 12 nautical miles (22.2 kilometers) from its coastline; any foreign warship exceeding this limit would need the country’s permission to do so, with a few exceptions.
Russia annexed Crimea to Ukraine after military intervention in the region in 2014. The international community opposed this annexation and still considers Crimea to be Ukrainian territory.
Eustice insisted the ship was making legal passage under international law to Georgia via Ukraine. When asked if the UK would sail again in disputed Ukrainian waters, he replied: “Yes … because we have never accepted the annexation of Crimea”.
Kremlin officials on Thursday accused the UK of “deliberate and planned provocation” and said it had the right to “bomb on target” when foreign ships violated its maritime borders.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on a conference call with reporters that Russia was “obviously concerned about such actions by the British ship.”
“What can we do? We can use common sense, demand respect for international law. If that doesn’t help, we can bomb not only in the direction, but also on target, if our colleagues do not understand.” , said the Russian deputy for foreign affairs. Minister Sergey Ryabkov said, according to Russian state media TASS ..
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab on Thursday called Moscow’s version of Wednesday’s incident “as expected”, saying “no shots were fired at HMS Defender “.
Shortly after the British ship crossed the territorial border, a Su-24M attack plane dropped bombs and a coastal patrol vessel fired warning shots in front of the British destroyer, the Russian Ministry of Justice said. Defense in a report by Russian state media TASS.
But British officials rebuffed the Russian claims and Eustice continued to play them down on Thursday.
“I don’t think they were warning shots. There was a military drill going on, and it’s not uncommon for the Russians to do it in this area, and so the incident is not particularly abnormal in that sense, “he said. .
The British Ministry of Defense had previously denied Moscow’s accusation, saying its ship was making a legal and innocent passage.
The UK ambassador to Moscow was due to visit the Russian Foreign Ministry on Thursday after being summoned over the incident, spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on state television. Zakharova on Wednesday accused the UK of spreading lies about the incident.
“So who is lying: the British Ministry of Defense, the British BBC journalist or the British Embassy in Moscow? There is an answer. This time the British Ministry of Defense and the British Embassy … London has lost its manners. I advise the British partners to strike if they want to “enter peacefully” next time, “Zakharova wrote on Telegram.
A movement observed in China
The Black Sea incident will be monitored further away, with Europe, the United States and China likely watching Britain’s response, experts told CNN.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged the EU to unite against Russia’s “provocations”, but also to seek direct talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying the bloc “must create formats for dialogue”. of French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday, and follow a recent summit between US President Joe Biden and Russian leader Vladimir Putin.
“This is a moment that comes just as France and Germany, to the surprise and bewilderment of a number of smaller EU countries, are trying to establish some kind of new relationship with the Russia, “said Nigel Gould-Davies, senior researcher for Russia. and Eurasia at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) in London. “If Britain were still in the EU, she would have been able to warn against this.”
The UK “went the other way” to France and Germany with its decision to cross the Black Sea, James Nixey, Russia and Eurasia program director at Chatham House, told CNN.
“Russia revels in and understands the value of theatricality,” Nixey added. “The message to (the West) is: ‘We will not be restricted by internationally imposed rules.'”
The Kremlin probably also had a national audience in mind, some experts said. “It would be unusually risky to take the kind of actions that Russia claims to have taken – including dropping bombs in front of a foreign ship,” Sidharth Kaushal, maritime power researcher at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), told CNN.
“The Russians are working to advance the narrative that the Royal Navy acted provocatively and was driven out – which could be both for domestic consumption and to bolster international perceptions of Russia’s red lines.” , did he declare.
The tensions could also have implications for China. HMS Defender is part of Carrier Strike Group 21, soon to be heading to the South China Sea, where China has turned obscure reefs and sandbanks into man-made islands, fortified with missiles, tracks and systems. weapons.
“China will look to see if the British are as bold in the South China Sea as they are in the Black Sea,” Nixey said. “It’s a box of worms that the UK may be less willing to open by comparison.”