Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, has accused the United States of working with the UK to undermine Russia’s defences.
His comments come a week after a British Royal Navy destroyer was harassed by Russian jets and subjected to warning shots after travelling within 12 miles of Crimea’s shoreline, triggering a major confrontation.
During his annual marathon call-in show on state television on Wednesday, Mr Putin described the incident as a “provocation” and alleged that a US reconnaissance aircraft was operating in sync with the UK warship HMS Defender to spy on Russia’s defence capabilities.
Mr Putin claimed the incident was a deliberate attempt to undermine the progress that the Kremlin felt it had achieved at the summit with the President Joe Biden the week before.
“The meeting in Geneva had just happened, so why was this provocation needed, what was its objective? To underscore that those people do not respect Crimeans’ choice to join the Russian Federation.”
Asked by the TV host if the confrontation could have triggered a Third World War, Mr Putin sought to play it down: “Even if we had sunk the British destroyer near Crimea, it’s unlikely that the world would be on the verge of Third World War.”
The leader also accused the West of using Ukraine as a stomping ground for flexing its military muscle on Russia’s doorstep.
“The military exploitation of the territory that borders on us – this creates significant security problems for us. This really concerns Russia’s vital interests," he said.
Russia has been at loggerheads with Ukraine since 2014 when Moscow annexed the Crimean peninsula and propped up armed separatists in the country’s east.
In response, Ukrainian leaders have increasingly sought to join Nato, saying it is the only way to ward off Russian aggression.
Fears about renewed fighting in the country’s east resurfaced this spring as Russia amassed tens of thousands of troops by the Ukrainian border in what has been described as its largest military build-up since the Crimean annexation.