There are conflicting reports about a hostile engagement between the Royal Navy and Russian naval forces in the most sensitive parts of the Black Sea.
According to the Russian Defense Ministry, a Russian patrol ship and fighter jet fired warning shots near HMS Defender, which had allegedly intruded into Russian territorial waters near the Crimean Peninsula.
HMS Defender is a Type 45 destroyer that is part of the UK's Carrier Strike Group. According to the Royal Navy it is carrying out missions in the Black Sea for unspecified reasons.
The Russian authorities claim the incident happened near Cape Fiolent in the south of Crimea.
The Russian Defense Ministry says a patrol ship fired twice and the SU-24 fighter jet dropped four bombs on the path of HMS Defender, which subsequently changed course away from Russian waters off the Crimean Peninsula.
But British defense sources are offering a very different account of how the incident unfolded.
According to Sky News’ foreign affairs editor, Deborah Haynes, British defense sources have claimed that Russian forces were conducting a “gunnery exercise” 3 miles away, and had not fired warning shots.
HMS Defender was warned of the gunnery exercise in advance. The exercise took place 3 miles behind the Type 45 destroyer - so, to repeat, no warning shots fired *at* the British warship, according to a defence source, but this is still being seen as a provocative act by Russia.— Deborah Haynes (@haynesdeborah) June 23, 2021
Haynes, who has excellent defense sources, quotes the UK Defense Secretary, Ben Wallace, as claiming that HMS Defender was carrying out a “routine transit” from Odesa (Ukraine) towards Georgia across the Black Sea.
BREAKING: UK Defence Secretary @BWallaceMP on UK-Russia Black Sea spat - his account is v different to the one from Russia's defence ministry...— Deborah Haynes (@haynesdeborah) June 23, 2021
Mr Wallace says @RoyalNavy destroyer HMS Defender carried out a "routine transit" from Odesa towards Georgia across the Black Sea. 1/
According to Wallace (as quoted by Haynes), HMS Defender was merely “shadowed” by Russian naval and air assets and was made aware of “training exercises” nearby.
He adds: “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 & she was made aware of training exercises in her wider vicinity" 2/2— Deborah Haynes (@haynesdeborah) June 23, 2021
Notwithstanding the conflicting accounts by the Russian and British authorities, the incident appears to be very serious as demonstrated by the reaction of the government in Moscow.
According to the independent Russian news agency, Interfax, the UK’s defense attaché in Moscow has been summoned to the Russian defense ministry.
The latest incident comes in the wake of intensifying tensions between the UK and the Russian Federation centered on the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
The UK began deploying naval assets to the Black Sea in the spring with a view to applying pressure on Russia by way of signaling solidarity with Ukraine.
Last October, a Royal navy warship, HMS Dragon, was reportedly “expelled” from waters off the Crimean coast by Russian forces.