On Wednesday, June 23, 2021, a Russian border patrol ship reportedly fired warning shots at a British destroyer off the coast of Cape Fiolent on Crimea in the Black Sea. Moscow has reported that warning shots were fired and bombs were dropped in the British Royal Navy destroyer’s path to deter it, accusing the United Kingdom of entering Russian waters.

The Russian defence ministry has stated that the HMS Defender, “was given a preliminary warning that weapons would be used if the state borders of the Russian Federation were violated. It did not react to the warning.”

The area in the Crimea peninsula where this occurred was annexed by Russia from Ukraine in 2014, with the HMS Defender having entered 3km inside. As a result, Russia considers these waters to be its own territory, conflicting with the West’s stance that these are part of Ukrainian territory. The Russian foreign ministry has accused this incident of being a “blatant provocation” from the British. The Russian military has also stated that “The destroyer had been warned that weapons would be used if it trespasses the border of the Russian Federation. It did not react to the warning.”

Credit: REUTERS/Sergey Smolentsev

The UK’s Ministry of Defence officially denied the Russian Federation’s claims, emphasizing, “No warning shots have been fired at HMS Defender. The Royal Navy ship is conducting innocent passage through Ukrainian territorial waters in accordance with international law.” ‘Innocent passage’ is defined in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea Article 19 as “innocent so long as it is not prejudicial to the peace, good order or security of the coastal State.” Per this, the British position officially asserts that the HMS Defender was carrying out a routine transit. The UK claims that “We believe the Russians were undertaking a gunnery exercise in the Black Sea and provided the maritime community with prior-warning of their activity. No shots were directed at HMS Defender and we do not recognize the claim that bombs were dropped in her path.”

Defence secretary Ben Wallace rejected Russian claims by adding that, “As is normal for this route, HMS Defender entered an internationally recognized traffic separation corridor. She exited that corridor safely at 0945 BST (British Summer Time). As is routine, Russian vessels shadowed her passage and she was made aware of training exercises in her wider vicinity.”

Russia’s foreign ministry intends to take diplomatic action and will summon the British ambassador in Moscow.

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