Russia has warned Britain and the United States it will defend its borders using ‘all possible means’ including military force and accused the two countries of trying to incite conflict in the Black Sea.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov was speaking a day after Moscow warned Britain it would bomb British naval vessels in the Black Sea if what it called provocative actions by the British navy were repeated off the coast of Russia-annexed Crimea.
Russian news agency RIA quoted Ryabkov as saying Washington and London were sowing strife in the region by failing to accept Crimea as a part of Russia.
Russia considers the peninsula part of its territory. It annexed Crimea in 2014, but it is internationally recognised as part of Ukraine.
Russia has warned Britain and the United States it will defend its borders using ‘all possible means’ including military force. Pictured: The Royal Navy’s HMS Defender destroyer in the Black Sea near Crimea as part of an exercise, in what Russia says is a violation of Russian territorial waters
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov warned Russia will defend its borders using all possible means
‘Washington and London are denying reality… they are trying to provoke conflict,’ he said. ‘These are Russian territorial waters, this is our border. I can confirm that we will defend it with all possible means, including military.’
Russia said on Wednesday it had fired warning shots and dropped bombs in the path of a British warship to chase it out of Black Sea waters off the coast of Crimea.
Video footage appears to show the dramatic moment a Russian patrol vessel opened fire near HMS Defender in the Black Sea.
The video, released by Russia’s coastguard, seems to give a deck-eye view of the incident from one of the two patrol vessels which harassed HMS Defender.
The bursts of orange flame from the barrel of the Russian patrol vessel’s 30mm cannon followed repeated warnings from the coastguard that he would fire if the Royal Navy destroyer entered what Russia considered its territorial waters off Crimea – which has been occupied by President Putin’s forces since 2014.
In broken English, the crew of the UK warship were told: ‘Please attention, keep away from me.’
In the video released by Putin’s regime, three shots each with two shells are seen fired as warning shots, by which time HMS Defender is visible but at a long distance away
The drama took place on Wednesday as Russian jets and the border patrol vessels homed in on HMS Defender after she passed into the disputed waters.
Britain rejected Russia’s account of the incident. It said it believed any shots fired were a pre-announced Russian ‘gunnery exercise’, and that no bombs had been dropped.
It confirmed a British destroyer, HMS Defender, had sailed through what it described as waters belonging to Ukraine.
But on Friday, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov derided the British denials that the Russian military fired warning shots at the Defender and urged Britain and its allies not to ‘tempt fate’.
He added that the Defender is ‘just a juicy target for the Black Sea Fleet’s missile systems’.
In a tense encounter witnessed by the Mail, the cannon fired near the Royal Navy destroyer, forcing crew to pull on retardant suits and flak jackets.
A furious diplomatic row between Moscow and London is still raging, and yesterday the Russian foreign ministry even threatened to bomb any other British vessel venturing too close to Crimea.
It also emerged yesterday that Russian ships launched a 200-mile pursuit of the British warship in a dramatic continuation of hostilities.
The two border patrol craft were joined by a frigate as all three chased HMS Defender to within 20 miles of Georgia.
The Dmitriy Rogachev, a 94m-long Bykov-class corvette capable of carrying missiles, grenade launchers and torpedoes, closed to within 1.5 miles of the British.
With its range of 6,000 miles, it is feared she will shadow the UK warship for days to come.
The continued harassment came as the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a chilling threat to drop bombs on any Royal Navy warships entering Crimean territory.
Footage shows lengthy negotiations in English between the coast guard vessel and the large destroyer. In Russian there is a command to shoot – but also to miss
Russia’s deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov said the ‘inviolability’ of its borders is an ‘absolute imperative’ and added that it will be protected ‘by all means, diplomatic, political and military if needed’.
Asked what Russia would do if there was a repeat, Mr Ryabkov said: ‘We may appeal to reason and demand respect for international law.
‘If it doesn’t help we may drop bombs and not just in the path but right on target.’
‘In the path’ related to Russia’s claim on Wednesday that it dropped bombs in front of HMS Defender.
The claim is almost certainly propaganda as no such ordnance was detected by the UK warship.
But HMS Defender’s captain hit back last night reminding the Kremlin of his ‘inherent right to self-defence’ and indicated he would respond to any genuine threat to the safety of the 240 people on board his ship.
As the diplomatic spat was stepped up yesterday, Deborah Bronnert, the UK’s ambassador to Russia, was summoned to the Kremlin to explain the incident.
She was issued with a ‘tough demarche’ – diplomatic jargon for a telling off – as Russia accused London of ‘barefaced lies’.
In the video taken from the patrol boat, a person can be heard saying in Russian: ‘Fire warning shots! Fire warning shots! Over. Along the course of Defender. Along the course of Defender. No hitting it, no hitting Defender, did you get me? Over’
The warship is visible but at a long distance away. The clip’s release follows Russia summoning the UK’s ambassador in Moscow for a formal telling off today
Asked whether the UK was telling ‘barefaced lies’ over the incident, Boris Johnson said: ‘Well, they’re the bear.
‘That’s not my information and my understanding is that the Carrier Strike Group proceeded in the way you would expect through international waters and in accordance with the law.’
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said of the incident: ‘We believe it was a deliberate and premeditated provocation.’
The footage shows lengthy negotiations in English between the coastguard vessel and the British destroyer.
Defender repeatedly insists it is on an established sea route in international waters.
Next, from the Russians, there is a command to shoot – but also to miss. ‘Fire warning shots! Fire warning shots! Over. Along the course of Defender.
UK Ambassador to Russia, Deborah Bronnert, pictured above. She was summoned to Moscow for a ‘tough demarche’ – a diplomatic term for a firm rebuke
‘Along the course of Defender. No hitting it, no hitting Defender, did you get me? Over.’
The Navy warship is clearly visible on the horizon. The video was released more than a day after Russia first made the claim that it had shot at the boat, and dropped four bombs from an Su-24 warplane as a warning.
Mr Johnson backed the Navy yesterday, saying it had been ‘entirely right’ to voyage through the disputed waters around Ukraine and that the service had been ‘sticking up for our values’.
The Prime Minister, speaking to reporters at an army base in Aldershot, said: ‘It was entirely right that we should vindicate the law and pursue freedom of navigation in the way that we did, take the shortest route between two points, and that’s what we did.’
Mr Johnson sidestepped a question on whether he had personally authorised HMS Defender’s voyage, saying that was a matter for the Ministry of Defence.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace gave further details of Wednesday’s incident in a written statement to MPs.
He said ten minutes after entering ‘a traffic separation scheme’ shipping lane, a Russian coastguard vessel warned that units would shortly commence a live fire gunnery exercise.
While accurate, it failed to mention the more aggressive language of ‘I’ll be fire’ issued by the same coastguard in broken English.
Boris Johnson, pictured boarding a helicopter in London today to travel to an Army base in Aldershot, insisted Britain had every right to sail close to Crimea
Mr Johnson is seen behind the wheel of an armoured vehicle complete with a machine gun belonging to Britain’s the new Ranger Regiment during a visit to mark Armed Forces Week at the Aldershot Garrison in Aldershot
As far as many crew aboard HMS Defender are concerned, Russia issued a threat to engage the UK warship, then opened fire when it failed to change course.
Mr Wallace said HMS Defender was overflown by Russian combat aircraft flying as low as 500 feet and that some of their manoeuvers were ‘neither safe nor professional’.
The Defence Secretary added: ‘The Royal Navy will always uphold international law and will not accept unlawful interference with innocent passage.’
HMS Defender is part of the UK Carrier Strike Group (CSG) currently heading to the Indo-Pacific region. It broke away on Tuesday to conduct a Freedom of Navigation patrol through waters Russia regards as its own.
Last night, the Russian Embassy in London posted a message on Twitter jokingly referring to HMS Defender as ‘HMS Provocative’.
Won by conquest, given away as a ‘gift’, now occupied by force: Russia’s history in Crimea and the Black Sea
Prince Grigory Potemkin, who established the Black Sea Fleet in Crimea in 1783
The Black Sea – and the Crimean peninsula which juts into it – are a strategic crossroads between Europe, the Middle East and Asia which has been contested by Empires and nations for centuries.
The sea itself contains vital trading routes, is bordered by five of Russia’s near-neighbours, and today hosts vital energy pipelines and fibre optic cables.
For Russia to assert power in the waters, control of Crimea – which contains its main Black Sea port at Sevastopol and controls the Kerch Strait leading to the nearby Sea of Azov – is essential.
Crimea has, at one time or another, come under the control of the Greeks, Persians, Romans, Mongols, Ottomans.
It was not until 1783 that it fell fully under the control of the Russian Empire when Russian generals Alexander Suvorov and Mikhail Kamensky led a force of 8,000 men to victory against an Ottoman army of 40,000 at the the Battle of Kozludzha.
Russia’s Prince Grigory Potemkin quickly established the Russian Black Sea Fleet at the port of Sevastopol, from where he asserted naval power over the Black Sea, it neighbours including Georgia, Ukraine and Turkey, and projected power further into the Mediterranean.
Crimea also turned into a key trading post. On the eve of World War 1 in 1914 – some 50 per cent of all Russia’s exports and a full 90 per cent of its agricultural exports passed through Bosphorus Strait which leads out of the Black Sea.
In 1954 Crimea was given as a ‘gift’ by Nikita Khrushchev to Ukraine, ostensibly to mark the 300th anniversary of Ukraine’s merger with Tsarist Russia, but more likely to secure Ukraine’s support for Khrushchev’s leadership and to cement Ukraine as part of the Soviet Union.
Because Ukraine was then part of the Union, Moscow maintained control over Crimea and its vital ports – at least until 1991 when the union collapsed and Ukraine became and independent county.
Following Ukraine’s independence, access to the peninsula became a bargaining chip between the two nations, with Ukraine recognising Russia’s right to the port at Sevastopol in return for concessions such as writing off debts and taking control of part of the Black Sea fleet.
But in 2014, the pro-Moscow government of Viktor Yanukovych was overthrown in a popular uprising that wanted to draw the country closer to Europe.
Fearing the loss of the port at Sevastopol, Putin marched troops into Crimea and seized control of it – later holding a ‘referendum’ which showed majority support for the region to become part of Russia, though the result is viewed as far from credible.
Today, Moscow is in control of the peninsula and refers to it as part of its territory, though most world bodies refer to the region as ‘occupied Crimea’.
The Black Sea Fleet remains one of Russia’s largest and most formidable, thought to comprise a total of 47 ships, seven submarines and 25,000 troops, mostly marines.