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London / Moscow: Russia accused Britain on Thursday of spreading lies over a warship confrontation in the Black Sea and warned London that it would respond resolutely to any further provocative actions by the British navy off the coast of Russia-annexed Crimea.
Russia summoned the British ambassador in Moscow for a formal diplomatic scolding after the warship breached what the Kremlin says are its territorial waters but which Britain and most of the world say belong to Ukraine.
Britain said Russia was sowing inaccuracies and disputed Russia’s account, saying no warning shots had been fired and that no bombs had been dropped in the path of the Royal Navy destroyer Defender.
Russia’s foreign ministry summoned ambassador Deborah Bronnert to deliver a “tough demarche” – diplomatic jargon for a telling off – and spokeswoman Maria Zakharova accused London of “barefaced lies”.
“We believe it was a deliberate and premeditated provocation,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said of the incident, in which Moscow said it fired warning shots and dropped bombs in the path of the British destroyer.
“In the event of a repeat of unacceptable provocative action – if those actions go too far, no options can be ruled out in terms of legally defending Russia’s borders,” Peskov told reporters.
The Black Sea, which Russia uses to project its power in the Mediterranean, has for centuries been a flashpoint between Russia and its competitors such as Turkey, France, Britain and the United States.
Russia seized and annexed the Crimea peninsula from Ukraine in 2014 and considers areas around its coast to be Russian waters. Western countries deem the Crimea to be part of Ukraine and reject Russia’s claim to the seas around it.
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told reporters during a visit to Singapore: “No shots were fired at HMS Defender.” “The Royal Navy ship was conducting innocent passage through Ukrainian territorial waters. We were doing so in accordance with international law and the Russian characterisation is predictably inaccurate.” Under international law of the sea, innocent passage permits a vessel to pass through another state’s territorial waters so long as this does not affect its security.
Black sea row
During the 2008 Georgian war, Russia bristled at US
warships operating in the Black Sea, and in April the United States cancelled the deployment of two warships to the area.
Both Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Joe Biden say ties between the two former Cold War foes are at a low point after disputes over spying, hacking, election meddling, Ukraine, Belarus and human rights.
Ties between London and Moscow have been on ice since the 2018 poisoning with a Soviet-developed nerve agent known as Novichok of double agent Sergei Skripal, a mole who betrayed hundreds of Russian agents to Britain’s MI6 foreign spy service.
Russia said the British ship had ventured as far as 3km into Russian waters near Cape Fiolent, a landmark on Crimea’s southern coast near the port of Sevastopol, headquarters of the Russian Navy’s Black Sea fleet.
Britain’s BBC released footage from the ship showing a Russian coast guard warning that he would shoot if the British ship did not change course.
“If you don’t change the course, I’ll fire,” a heavily accented Russian voice said in English to the British ship. The BBC said shots were fired and that as many as 20 Russian aircraft were “buzzing” the British ship.
Britain said the shots were part of a Russian gunnery exercise. Russia released footage filmed from a Russian SU-24 bomber flying close to the British ship.