London dismisses Moscow’s version of events as ‘predictably inaccurate’, while Russia summons UK ambassador.
A war of words between Moscow and London escalated on Thursday as both sides accused one another of giving inaccurate accounts of an incident involving a British warship and Russian forces in the Black Sea.
Russia said on Wednesday it fired warning shots and dropped bombs in the path of HMS Defender as it sailed off the coast of the Crimea peninsula, accusing the Royal Navy destroyer of breaching its territorial waters.
The United Kingdom has disputed Russia’s account, saying no warning shots were fired and no bombs were dropped, but suggested a Russian gunnery exercise had been taking place in the area.
UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab on Thursday denounced Moscow’s claims.
“No shots were fired at HMS Defender,” Raab told reporters in Singapore, during a visit to discuss trade deals.
“The Royal Navy ship was conducting innocent passage through Ukrainian territorial waters. We were doing so in accordance with international law and the Russian characterisation is predictably inaccurate.”
“Innocent passage” is an internationally recognised right for ships to sail through territorial waters of a country, provided they mean no harm.
Russia annexed Crimea in 2014.
Moscow considers areas around the Crimean peninsula’s coast to be Russian waters, but Western countries deem Crimea to be part of Ukraine and reject Russia’s claim to the seas around it.
In comments broadcast on state television, Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova accused the UK of lying regarding its account of events.
Zakharova said the UK’s ambassador will be summoned to the Russian foreign ministry on Thursday over the episode, which the Kremlin described as a “provocation”.
‘We can bomb’
Russia said HMS Defender ventured as far as three kilometres (two miles) into Russian waters near Cape Fiolent, a landmark on Crimea’s southern coast near the port of Sevastopol, headquarters of the Russian Navy’s Black Sea fleet.
Russia’s defence ministry said a border patrol ship fired warning shots and an Su-24 jet dropped four bombs in HMS Defender’s path in response, prompting the vessel to turn around – claims which were rebutted by the UK’s defence ministry.
Russia’s deputy foreign minister warned on Thursday that Moscow would always “stand guard” over its borders and was entitled to “bomb” in instances where they are ignored.
“What can we do? We can appeal to common sense, demand respect for international law. If this does not help, we can bomb not only in the direction, but also on target, if our colleagues do not understand,” Sergei Ryabkov was quoted as saying by Russia’s Tass news agency.
“I warn everyone violating the state borders of the Russian Federation under the slogan of free navigation, from such provocative steps, because the security of our country comes first.”
“The territorial integrity of the Russian Federation is inviolable. The inviolability of its borders is an absolute imperative, we will stand guard over all this by diplomatic, political and, if necessary, military means.”
Russia on Thursday released footage filmed from a Russian Su-24 bomber flying close to HMS Defender.
The UK’s BBC news, whose reporter Jonathan Beale was on deck during the incident, released footage from the British ship showing a Russian officer warning that he would shoot if it did not change course.
After the Russian warning issued over radio, Beale said: “Shots are fired, but they are well out of range”.
Al Jazeera and news agencies