A British warship entered Russian waters in the Black Sea, according to Moscow. Russia used bombs and bullets as a warning. Did London want to show strength?
Russia fired bombs and gunshots to deter a British warship in an unprecedented operation in the Black Sea off Crimea. A Sukhoi Su-24 fighter jet dropped bombs and launched a warship as a warning. The British destroyer “HMS Defender” left the waters claimed by Russia – according to Moscow, and moved away from the Russian army. The government in London initially described the incident as innocuous, and as a BBC report in the evening showed, the British action was deliberately plotted as a demonstration of strength and leadership as a defender of international order.
Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea in 2014 and now considers the waters in front of it Russian. Accordingly, the Russian Ministry of Defense and Foreign Affairs criticized the incident, describing it as a “gross British provocation” that violates international and Russian law. However, the annexation of Crimea is internationally classified as illegal. So the British Ministry of Defense spoke of a “harmless passage” through Ukrainian waters, in accordance with international law.
BBC report confirms dramatic operation
The British confirmed the occurrence of gunshots. But the shooting had previously been announced as a Russian military exercise. There were no gunshots or bombs aimed at the British destroyer. The British Embassy in Moscow described Russia’s representation in a Russian-language cable report that evening as “inaccurate”. But the Kremlin’s reaction was clear. After the incident, the British ambassador had to go to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Moscow for a report, the military attaché of the Ministry of Defense.
A BBC report on board the HMS Defender suggested it might have been a serious confrontation. It documents the massive attempts by Russian aircraft and ships to derail the destroyer. “Sometimes there were 20 (Russian) planes on top of the warship,” the BBC reported. Film recordings on board the ship can be heard where a crew member of the Russian Coast Guard ship says over the radio: “If you don’t change course, there will be a fire.” The reporter said that shots were also fired, but it appeared that they were fired from afar. In a deviation from the representation of the Russian side, “HMS Defender” has maintained its planned course, according to the BBC.
Was the Russian reaction expected?
In the BBC report, crew members described the destination of the flight through the waters claimed by Russia and the expected reaction from the Russians. “You’re likely to be a little aggressive,” says one officer. Great Britain and the Royal Navy’s operation off Crimea is at the service of the international system in order to ensure peace and security around the world, the HMS Defender commander explains in the report.
It is said that the British warship was there for a maneuver planned in the coming days. According to US information, the “Sea Breeze” maneuver in the Black Sea will last for two weeks and will start on Monday. With 32 participating nations from six continents, 5,000 troops, 32 ships, 40 aircraft plus 18 special operations and diving teams, this is the largest exercise of its kind to date. Ukraine is a place to maneuver. These annually scheduled exercises have existed since 1997. Russia has asked the United States and its allies not to conduct the exercise.
Criticism of the American and British presence
Moscow has long been annoyed by the presence of warships from the United States or Great Britain, for example, even though these countries are not neighbours. There were often warnings from Russia, but the fact that the fires are actually being launched is unprecedented in the recent intense confrontation between the West and Moscow.
Ukrainian-Russian conflict: Despite a ceasefire agreement in eastern Ukraine from July 2020, the situation between Moscow and Kiev has been getting worse for weeks. The transfer of tens of thousands of Russian soldiers to Crimea and the border with eastern Ukraine in recent weeks has raised fears in the West that open war could break out. Russia wants to close parts of the Black Sea and therefore will close important export routes to Ukraine. Since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, the Kerch Strait has repeatedly been the scene of Ukrainian-Russian confrontations. In 2018, Russia opened the controversial 19-kilometer-long Crimean bridge, which connects the Russian mainland to the peninsula, which was occupied in violation of international law. That same year, the Kerch Strait escalated when Russia fired on and captured three Ukrainian ships allegedly entering Russian waters.
According to the Russian Defense Ministry, the HMS Defender has traveled three kilometers inside Russian territorial waters. After the warnings were ignored, warning shots and four protective bombs were dropped on the ship’s path.
Maneuvers against the backdrop of new tensions
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba described the incident as evidence of the “aggressive and provocative policies of the Russian Federation in the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov”. Once again, Kuleba insisted on new cooperation between NATO members and Ukraine in the Black Sea. “The occupation and militarization of Crimea has become a permanent threat to Ukraine and its allies.”
At the new Moscow Conference on International Security, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu accused NATO of stirring up strong tensions in the world. “The world is heavily fraught with a new confrontation far more dangerous than the Cold War,” Shoigu said.
In the spring, marches of Russian and Ukrainian forces along the conflict zone in eastern Ukraine raised fears that the conflict between Russia and Ukraine could escalate again. For nearly seven years, pro-Moscow separatists have controlled parts of eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions along the Russian border. In the spring, the United States wanted to send warships to the Black Sea, but after heavy criticism from Russia, refrained from doing so.