According to Russia, a British warship received warning shots and bombs today after it strayed into Russian territorial waters in the Black Sea. According to the British Ministry of Defense, the incident never occurred. The Ministry of Defense claims that the destroyer HMS Defender was passing through Ukrainian territorial waters and was not fired upon by Russian forces, which according to Moscow caused the ship to change course.
Russia claims to have fired warning shot at British destroyer
The alleged incident occurred near the major Russian naval base of Sevastopol on the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia annexed in 2014.
NATO aligned nations do not recognize Russian ownership of Crimea, which was forcibly seized from Ukraine following a Russian invasion. Crimea is primarily inhabited by ethnic Russians, who found themselves under Ukrainian control with the fall of the Soviet Union.
While Russia considers Crimea and the surrounding waters to be a legitimately integrated territory, the United Kingdom and other NATO countries continue to recognize Ukrainian ownership.
The Russian Defense Ministry claims that HMS Defender entered several miles into Russian waters and ignored radio warnings, refusing to change course even after a warning shot was fired.
Defender allegedly did finally turn and leave the area after a Russian Su-24 attack aircraft dropped four bombs in front of the destroyer, forcing it to depart.
According to the British, the Defender never entered Russian waters and was never fired on. The Ministry of Defense claimed that the incident was actually part of a known Russian gunnery exercise and that no shots were directed at HMS Defender.
Black Sea bases vital to Russian interests
If the altercation did occur it would be significant as the first use of live ammunition by the Russians to deter a NATO warship since the end of the Cold War.
The Russian government reported that the British military attaché in Moscow had been summoned to hear their concern over the incident.
Russia has frequently criticized the presence of NATO vessels on the Black Sea, evidently threatened by their proximity to vital Russian bases like Sevastopol.
Securing warm-water ports on the Black Sea has been a foreign policy priority for centuries in Russia, which otherwise has few good harbors for shipping and naval bases.
If HMS Defender was attacked it would be an escalation, but not an overly surprising one. Russia keeps a close eye on any foreign activities in the Black Sea and is very willing to remind NATO of that fact when necessary.
Russia and NATO have both accused each other of engaging in provocative military exercises and buildups on the Ukrainian land border as well as at sea, and Russia evidently feels threatened on both fronts.