More than 20 Russian aircraft and two coastguard ships have shadowed a British warship sailing near Crimea, the BBC reported Wednesday.
Moscow’s defense ministry said a patrol ship fired warning shots and a jet dropped bombs in the path of HMS Defender as it sailed some 19 kilometers off Crimea’s coast.
The British government rejected Russia’s account of the incident. It denied that any warning shots had been fired.
A British government spokesman played down any notion of hostilities. It insisted that Russia was doing „gunnery exercises” in the Black Sea.
UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said: „As is routine, Russian vessels shadowed (the ship’s) passage and she was made aware of training exercises in her wider vicinity”, the BBC reported.
The British ambassador was summoned to the Russian foreign ministry in Moscow on Wednesday afternoon
Russia’s defense ministry said the „dangerous actions” of the navy ship entering its waters were a „gross violation” of the UN Convention’s sea laws, and called for the crew to be investigated.
A later tweet from the Russian embassy in London said: „HMS Defender turns HMS Provocateur and violates Russian border. Not exactly a ‘routine’ transit, is it?”
The BBC defense correspondent Jonathan Beale filed a report from the deck of HMS Defender in the Black Sea as it sailed to Georgia.
He had been invited on board the ship before the incident happened. He said he saw more than 20 aircraft overhead and two Russian coastguard boats which at times were just 100m away.
HMS Defender was sailing from Odessa in southern Ukraine to Georgia. It passed south of the Crimea peninsula, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014. The move has not been recognized internationally.
Moscow claims the peninsula and its waters are Russian territory. But the UK says HMS Defender was passing through Ukrainian waters in a commonly used and internationally recognized transit route.
Russia’s defense ministry said it was closing off navigation in parts of the Black Sea to foreign military and official ships from mid-April until the end of October.
British warships, including the HMS Defender, were preparing to sail for the Black Sea in May amid rising tensions between Ukraine and Russia.
The deployment is aimed at showing solidarity with Ukraine and Britain’s NATO allies, the Sunday Times reported in April.