The British Royal Navy destroyer HMS Defender, which angered Russia by sailing near its territorial waters in the Black Sea, has docked in Georgia while a US destroyer has entered the waters, as the Kremlin warns against “endless destabilization” along the Russian borders.
The British destroyer docked at the Georgian Black Sea port of Batumi on Saturday, after sailing through the Mediterranean waters in Istanbul, Turkey and Odessa in Ukraine.
HMS Defender will take its carrier group through the Suez Canal and on to East Asia.
Moscow said a Russian border patrol ship fired several warning shots and a military jet had dropped bombs in the path of the destroyer on Wednesday after it entered its territorial waters. Britain says no bombs were dropped.
Russian Ambassador to London Andrei Kelin said that the destroyer “could have led to a military clash,” as it was passing by Crimea.
“The nightmare is that they are trying to reinforce the political position with a military provocation, which, indeed, can lead us to a serious military incident, which the chief of the British General Staff admitted just yesterday evening,” Kelin said.
Defender's commander, Vince Owen, however, said Britain and its allies and partners such as Georgia — an aspirant of NATO membership — were committed to ensuring “Black Sea regional security, stability and prosperity and Georgia's territorial integrity and sovereignty.”
Owen said the Royal Navy was committed to “providing reassurances and security in the region, and incredible deterrence to those who seek to undermine global security.”
Britain said the destroyer had sailed through waters belonging to Ukraine, but Russia said the UK’s position on the issue was “offensive” and “rough.” HMS Defender passed south of the Crimean Peninsula as it was sailing from Odessa in southern Ukraine to Georgia.
"They took the position that the Destroyer was sailing in the territorial waters of Ukraine,” Kelin said.
The ambassador said that he has scheduled meetings with British authorities “to clarify this matter with them and say quite clearly that either we have a political dialogue or a provocation.”
Britain began deploying naval assets to the Black Sea in the spring with a view on applying pressure on Russia by way of signaling solidarity with Ukraine.
Russia said the two Western powers were fueling tensions in the region by failing to accept Crimea as Russian territory.
Crimea declared independence from Ukraine on March 17, 2014, and formally applied to become part of Russia following a referendum.
The West, however, claims Russia has annexed the region, an allegation Moscow rejects.
US destroyer enters Black Sea
In the meantime, a US warship also entered the Black Sea on Saturday to join the US and NATO war games in the region, according to the National Center for Defense Management of the Russian Federation.
"The forces of the Black Sea Fleet have begun to keep a close watch on the actions of the US Navy destroyer Ross, which entered the Black Sea,” it said.
The US Navy also said in a statement that USS Ross entered the Black Sea to “join the 31 ships during the naval part of the exercise.”
“The plan involves the unification of armed forces from the Americas, Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia to conduct various military disciplines at sea, land and air,” it added.
The war games will be “including combat operations on land, against ships and air defense, as well as the establishment of weapons clearance skills."
Last week, the Russian Embassy in Washington warned the US and its allies against conducting military drills in the Black Sea.
The diplomatic mission said that these maneuvers "increase the risk of unintentional incidents" and "encourage militaristic sentiments in Kiev."
President Vladimir Putin also expressed exasperation at NATO for its “never-ending” military build-ups near his country’s borders.
He said the Russian government “expects that common sense and a desire to develop constructive relations with us will eventually prevail.”
The president said the Kremlin was making efforts to reduce risks, ensure predictability, and iron out differences through dialog and particular agreements, including in the field of arms control.
Russia has repeatedly warned Britain and the United States against sending their warships near the country’s territorial waters in the strategic waters. It accuses the West of “provocative activities” in the waters and the airspace of the Black Sea.
Moscow warns against 'endless destabilization'
Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Saturday that the recent drills “have two global goals.”
“The first one is endless destabilization along the Russian border. This is a provocation for the sake of a provocation, they are trying to get a response,” she said. “And there needs to be a response, " she added.
"The second [goal] is to transport various types of equipment and arms to Ukrainian territory and leave them there," Zakharova noted.
In response to recent provocations, the Russian forces had also launched naval exercises in the Crimean Peninsula.
The US has for long been deploying forces and equipment in Eastern Europe and near Russia’s western borders.
More recently, tensions escalated over the Russian-speaking Donbass region of Ukraine, where Ukrainian troops and pro-Russia forces have been fighting since 2014.
Now it seems the intensely strained relations have not seen a relative thaw even after the summit in Geneva between President Putin and his American counterpart Joe Biden.
Relations between Moscow and Washington hit a new low in March after Biden said in an interview that the Russian president was a “killer” and that he would have to "pay a price" for alleged interference in the 2020 US presidential election.