Gavin Williamson today pledged Britain will stand with Ukraine against Russian aggression after a Royal Navy ship was sent to beef up defence in the Black Sea.
The Defence Secretary said he had dispatched HMS Echo to the region to show Britain’s ‘solidarity’ with Kiev.
But in a sign tensions are rising in the region, Vladimir Putin hit back by sending a Russian warship towards the Azov Sea, just north of the Black Sea.
The frigate was spotted 1.5 nautical miles off the Crimean coast in the area of the town of Feodosia, with a helicopter was visible onboard.
Speaking on a visit to Odessa in South Ukraine today, Mr Wiliamson said: ‘The reason…that HMS Echo is here is that we firstly want to demonstrate the solidarity that we have with Ukraine and the fact that Ukraine doesn’t stand alone.
‘But we also demonstrate our right to be able to come to ports such as Odessa, for freedom of navigation, for freedom for navies to be able to operate in the Black Sea. This isn’t Russia’s sea, this is an international sea.’
The visit comes amid rising tensions in the region and growing fears the simmering conflict between Russia and Ukraine could explode into all out war.
Gavin Williamson (pictured on board a Ukrainian frigate today) today said Britain sent a Royal Navy ship to the Black Sea help Ukraine stand up to Putin’s Russia
The Defence Secretary (pictured today disembarking from a Ukrainian Navy frigate) said the waters of the Black Sea do not belong to Moscow
Gavin Williamson (pictured meeting with his Ukrainian counterparts today in Odessa) is visiting the country amid rising tensions with Moscow
And tensions escalated last month when Russia fired on and seized three Ukrainian naval vessels off the Crimean Peninsula.
The stand-off sparked fears of an all-out war between the two countries and led Ukraine to declare martial law.
HMS Echo, a Navy warship equipped with cutting edge spy technology, docked in Odessa two days ago.
It is expected to carry out drills in the Black Sea as a show of strength against Russia.
Mr Williamson announced last month that they would ‘strengthen their defence partnership in the face of intensifying threats and aggression’ when his Ukrainian counterpart Stepan Poltorak visited the UK.
Speaking at the time, Mr Williamson said: As long as Ukraine faces Russian hostilities, it will find a steadfast partner in the United Kingdom.
‘By continuing to work together, whether through training programmes or military exercises, we help Ukraine to stand up for our shared values.
‘Those values of freedom and democracy cannot be traded. I have witnessed on the frontline the effects of the conflict in the East and this has completely reinforced my support for Ukraine’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity.’
HMS Echo, a Navy warship equipped with cutting edge spy technology, docked in Odessa two days ago (pictured)
Mr Poltorak said: ‘The United Kingdom is a valued partner that has supported Ukraine’s Armed Forces for the last four years in the face of Russian aggression.
‘As we fight to defend our territory, the offer of extended support from the UK Armed Forces is vitally important and gratefully received.’
Mr Williamson also announced that HMS Echo would deploy to the Black Sea in 2019 to demonstrate the UK’s support to ensuring freedom of navigation in the region.
And in January and February next year, training teams – made up of personnel from the Royal Navy, Royal Marines and the Army – will deploy to Ukraine as part of the extension to the UK’s military training operation.
UK ‘won’t pull out troops like Trump’
By JEMMA BUCKLEY AND DANIEL BATES
Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said there were no plans to increase British troop numbers in Afghanistan, after Donald Trump’s shock announcement that the US was pulling out.
And Mr Williamson promised the UK would not let fleeing Islamic State fighters off the hook in Syria, telling reporters: ‘We’ve deprived IS of its territorial and ground base but as an ideology and as an organisation it’s become more dispersed. We recognise we’ve got to continue to keep a foot on the throat of IS.
‘They are a threat to Britain and it is far safer to strike at that threat at places such as Iraq and Syria.’
His comments came after Mr Trump announced he is halving the number of troops in Afghanistan just days after pulling all of his soldiers out of Syria.
It is understood Britain was left in the dark by the order to withdraw half of the 14,000 US troops from Aghanistan, a decision one senator said could lead to a ‘second 9/11’.
There are now fears that the Taliban will retake control.