Russian fighter jets have been accused of "harassing" a Dutch navy frigate in the Black Sea as it carried out "mock attacks," the Defence Ministry of the Netherlands has claimed.
Speaking out for the first time since the Dutch ship Zr. Ms. Evertsen accompanied HMS Defender on a patrol in the Black Sea last week, the Dutch ministry of defence accused Moscow of flying Russian planes “dangerously low and close by, performing feint attacks”.
It comes after Russia said one of its warships in the Black Sea fired warning shots and a warplane dropped bombs to force a British destroyer out of an area near Crimea that Russia claims as its territorial waters. The UK has denied that account and insisted its ship wasn’t fired upon.
Responding to Moscow’s claims last week, Downing Street dismissed the suggestion that the Royal Navy was "fired upon or that the ship was in Russian waters" as "incorrect".
However, the Netherlands’ ministry released a statement on Tuesday in which it accused Moscow of “repeatedly” harassing the Dutch vessels “between about 3.30 pm and 8.30 pm local time”.
They added that the fighters were “armed with bombs and so-called air-to-surface missiles, intended to fire at a target from the air”, and that “after hours of intimidation”, the Russians then proceeded to disrupt Evertsen’s electronic equipment. “The Russian actions violated the right to the free use of the sea,” they added.
The commander of the Dutch warship, Captain-Lieutenant at Sea George Pastoor, said: “There was no reason whatsoever for these aggressive actions. Despite this, the mock attacks continued for several hours. It was irresponsible and unsafe behaviour at sea.”
HNLMS Evertsen accompanied HMS Defender in the Black Sea
Minister Ank Bijleveld-Schouten denounced the actions as “irresponsible,” as she added the vessels had “every right to sail there”.
She said: “There is no justification whatsoever for this kind of aggressive action, which also unnecessarily increases the risk of accidents. The Netherlands will address Russia about this.”
It comes after Ben Wallace, the Defence Secretary, said HMS Defender was warned by a Russian coastguard vessel that Russian units would commence a live fire gunnery exercise, shortly after the Royal Navy ship "conducted innocent passage through Ukrainian territorial waters via a direct route using a traffic separation scheme".
Mr Wallace said that while they noted "gunnery astern and out of range of her position", it "posed no danger" to the ship.
Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea in 2014, a move not recognised by most countries, by which it gained access to the peninsula’s long Black Sea coast. Russia has accused Nato warships visiting the area of being a destabilising presence.
In April, Russia imposed restrictions on foreign naval movements near Crimea until November, in a move that drew strong complaints from Ukraine and the West. Russia rejected the criticism and noted the restrictions wouldn’t interfere with commercial shipping.
Earlier this year, Russia also bolstered its troops near the border with Ukraine and warned Kiev against using force to reclaim control of the country’s eastern industrial heartland, where a conflict with Russia-backed separatists has killed more than 14,000 people in seven years. Moscow withdrew some of its forces after manoeuvres, but Ukrainian officials say many of them remain.