Britain has dismissed Russian claims that warning shots were fired at a Royal Navy destroyer and that bombs were dropped in the warship’s path.
The Russian Defence Ministry has claimed that a border patrol boat fired the shots at HMS Defender after it entered the country’s territorial waters in the Black Sea.
It also said that a Su-24M warplane dropped four bombs close to the ship.
But the MoD has said the Royal Navy vessel was “conducting innocent passage through Ukrainian territorial waters in accordance with international law”.
In a statement posted on Twitter, it said: “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.”
The confrontation is thought to have taken place near Cape Fiolent, a landmark on the coast of Crimea
Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in 2014 in a move condemned by the West, which still considers it Ukrainian territory.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said in a statement that the ship “carried out a routine transit from Odessa towards Georgia across the Black Sea”.
He said: “As is normal for this route, she entered an internationally recognised traffic separation corridor. She exited that corridor safely at 0945 BST. As is routine, Russian vessels shadowed her passage and she was made aware of training exercises in her wider vicinity.”
The Russian ministry said earlier in a statement: “The destroyer was warned in advance that weapons would be fired in case of a violation of the Russian state border. It disregarded the warning.
“As a result of joint actions of the Black Sea Fleet and the Border Service of the Russian Federal Security Service, HMS Defender left the territorial sea of the Russian Federation at 12.23pm.”
Sky News’ foreign affairs editor Deborah Haynes said: “Even if the ship wasn’t directly fired at, as the Russian defence ministry is claiming, the fact that these exercises were taking place so close to a transiting Royal Navy ship is clearly going to be seen from the UK side as a provocation.”
Ukraine’s foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba said the incident showed Russia’s aggressive and provocative policy that constituted a threat to Ukraine and its allies.
HMS Defender – a Type 45 destroyer – is part of the UK Carrier Strike Group currently heading to the Indo-Pacific region.
However, it was announced earlier this month that it would be temporarily breaking away from the group to carry out its “own set of missions” in the Black Sea.
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