Russian President Calls HMS Defender Incident in Black Sea “Provocation”

Gulnar Abbasova Feature 30 June 2021
Russian President Calls HMS Defender Incident in Black Sea “Provocation”

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that an incident in the Black Sea on 23 June was a "provocation" and suggested that Russia could have sunk the British destroyer.

Moscow accused the Royal Navy's HMS Defender of violating its territorial waters off occupied Crimea, and blamed the UK for staging a “deliberate provocation” with the approval of the US. Meanwhile, the UK said their ship was sailing in international waters, while Russia claimed it was in the Russian territorial waters of the Crimea peninsula.

Russia considers the waters off the peninsula, which it annexed from Ukraine in 2014, to be its territory. However, the West doesn’t recognize the annexation of Crimea by Russia.

"It was a provocation of course, that's absolutely clear," Putin said during annual nationwide phone-in marathon on 30 June, adding that "first, it was an integrated one, and was carried out not just by the British but also by the Americans, because the British [warship] entered our territorial waters during the day while early in the morning, at 0730, an American strategic reconnaissance plane took off from one of the NATO airfields in Greece, in Crete I think."

He said the objective was to see how Russia's armed forces would respond to "a provocation of this kind", and added that there also was a "political aspect" to the incident. 

Earlier, Russian officials said warning shots had been fired at the British navy destroyer after it entered what Russia considers its territorial waters off the region of Crimea annexed from Ukraine. The UK denies any shots were fired at HMS Defender. 

"The Black Sea Fleet together with the Border Service of the Federal Security Service of Russia have stopped the violation of the Russian state border by the British navy's guided missile destroyer Defender," the Russian Defence Ministry said.

Apart from the cruise missiles, the British warship also had torpedoes, an anti-aircraft missile launcher and a powerful radar to track all types of targets.

In an article headlined "Crimean War 2.0", the Russian Kommersant daily says that "NATO's build-up in the Black Sea nearly ended in a direct military clash with Russia". It also notes that the incident has raised tensions ahead of the Sea Breeze 2021 exercise in the Black Sea, which is intended to demonstrate Western support for Ukraine.  

NATO's Sea Breeze exercise, kicked off in the Black Sea on 28 June, containing 40 aircraft and 32 warships as well as over 5,000 troops from over 30 countries. US missile destroyer USS Ross and the US Marine Corps will take part. The drills are scheduled to conclude on 10 July.

Russia tested the readiness of its air defence systems in Crimea, as Ukraine and NATO countries held the Sea Breeze military exercise in the Black Sea. Russia’s Black Sea fleet had deployed around 20 warplanes and helicopters, including Su-24M bombers, as well as S-400 and Pantsir surface-to-air missile systems in the readiness tests.