Britain has denied reports that the Russian military fired warning shots at a UK destroyer in the Black Sea on Wednesday.
Moscow’s defence ministry was quoted as saying that the Royal Navy destroyer HMS Defender entered Russian territorial waters near Crimea, leading to a Russian warship firing warning shots and an SU-24 jet dropping bombs in its path, forcing it to change course.
Britain’s defence ministry claimed that the ship was sailing in Ukrainian waters and no warning shots had been fired.
British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said in a statement that HMS Defender was carrying out a “routine transit” and entered an internationally recognised traffic corridor.
The ministry said the Russians were carrying out a gunnery exercise in the Black Sea and provided prior warning of their activity.
“As is routine, Russian vessels shadowed her passage and she was made aware of training exercises in her wider vicinity,” Wallace added. “No shots were directed at HMS Defender and we do not recognise the claim that bombs were dropped in her path.”
Russia said the incident happened near Cape Fiolent in the south of Crimea and – according to a defence ministry statement to Russian news agencies – claimed the British vessel subsequently changed course.
The Black Sea incident came as Russian President Vladimir Putin reiterated on Wednesday that Moscow was “concerned” about a Nato build-up near Russia’s borders.
Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 but this has not been recognised internationally.
Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Wednesday that Russia’s reported action showed how Moscow’s “aggressive” policy constitutes a threat to Ukraine and its allies.
“We need a new quality of cooperation between Ukraine & Nato allies in the Black Sea,” he said.
Ukraine has intensified its years-long call for Nato membership in recent months, but the Western alliance has repeated that it needs to solve domestic issues such as corruption before being considered.
The British embassy’s defence attaché has been summoned to the Russian defence ministry in Moscow, Russia’s TASS news agency reported.
HMS Defender is a Type 45 destroyer that is part of the UK’s Carrier Strike Group. It is carrying out missions in the Black Sea, according to the Royal Navy’s website.
The warship was in the southern Ukrainian port of Odessa earlier this week, according to the British embassy in Ukraine.
It said the UK and Ukraine had signed an agreement to jointly build warships and construct two naval bases.