Russian forces fired warning shots at a Royal Navy destroyer after it entered the country’s territorial waters in the Black Sea, the Russian Defence Ministry has said.
A border patrol boat fired warning shots at HMS Defender and a Su-24M warplane dropped four bombs close to the ship, the Defence Ministry said in a statement reported by the Russian Interfax news agency.
HMS Defender left Russian waters soon afterwards, having ventured as much as 3 kilometres (2 miles) inside, the ministry said. The incident took place in the northwestern part of the Black Sea.
"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," the statement said.
"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."
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has dismissed the reports from Russia that warning shots were fired at HMS Defender, insisting it was a routine gunnery exercise and the Royal Navy vessel was "conducting innocent passage through Ukrainian territorial waters in accordance with international law".
An MoD spokesperson told the Telegraph that Russian vessels were conducting the gunnery exercise three miles away from HMS Defender at the time of the alleged incident.
Cape Fiolent map
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.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said in a tweet: "This morning, HMS Defender carried out a routine transit from Odesa towards Georgia across the Black Sea.
"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."
A recent open source report from the US Naval Institute said the location information of HMS Defender and a Dutch Frigate were spoofed to show they left Odesa port on Friday night and provocatively sailed to within two nautical miles of the port of Sevastopol, 180 miles away in Crimea.
The British Royal Navys destroyer HMS Defender in the port of Odesa on Ukraines Black Sea coast
Credit: Konstantin Sazonchik/TASS
MoD officials confirmed to the Telegraph the incident happened and said neither ship had left port at the time suggested by the fake data. Russia is widely suspected as having been behind the spoofing of the Automatic Identification System (AIS) used to show ship’s locations.
The alleged incident comes just two days after the announcement that Britain is to assist Ukraine with the "design and build of warships" and the construction of two new naval bases.
Defence minister Jeremy Quin and his Ukrainian counterpart signed a "memorandum of implementation for naval partnership projects" on board HMS Defender in Odessa on Monday, according to a UK Government Facebook page.
A retired Russian admiral has said Russia did nothing wrong in firing the warning shot at the British destroyer.
"They did everything right, without violating any international law," Admiral Viktor Kravchenko, former head of the Russian Navy’s General Staff, told Interfax.
"A report about the British vessel’s violation will be presented in a note of protest. The British will at least have to apologise… The British may say that this was a navigation mistake. But the coast was so close – what kind of mistake was that?"
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