The United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence today denied that the Russian military had fired warning shots at the HMS Defender. The Type 45 destroyer is currently sailing to Georgia through the Black Sea, following a port visit to Odessa earlier this week.
In a two-part statement posted on Twitter, the Ministry said:
“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.
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 recognise the claim that bombs were dropped in her path.”
A statement was also released by the Secretary of State for Defence, Ben Wallace:
“This morning, HMS Defender carried out a routine transit from Odesa towards Georgia across the Black Sea.
As is normal for this route, she entered an internationally recognised traffic separation corridor. She exited that corridor safely at 0945 BST. As is routine, Russian vessels shadowed her passage and she was made aware of training exercises in her wider vicinity.”
The denials follow reporting by the Russian military-affiliated Zvzeda television channel and other Russian news agencies today that the Russian Defense Ministry had claimed that FSB Border Guard ships had fired warning shots at the destroyer after it entered Crimea’s territorial waters (Russia claims to administer them following the 2014 annexation of Crimea, but few nations recognize Russian claims). Additionally, it was claimed that Russian Air Force Su-24Ms had dropped four 250 kilogram bombs in the path of the destroyer.
Jonathan Beale, a defense correspondent for the BBC aboard the HMS Defender, has reported that the ship did receive warnings from Russian coast guard vessels and military aircraft, with shots heard as the destroyer passed through a recognized shipping lane near Crimea, but says that the ship crew believe that the shots were “out of range”. Russian jets are also said to be continuing to buzz the HMS Defender, even after it entered international waters.
The claimed incident comes days after falsified ship Automatic Identification System (AIS) data gave the appearance that the HMS Defender and the Netherlands frigate HNLMS Evertsen had set sail for the Russian naval base of Sevastopol on 18 June. A live webcam at Odessa port, however, confirmed that the two ships had not left port. While nobody has claimed responsibility as of writing, the Russian government is known to have conducted GPS spoofing in the Black Sea and other regions as far back as 2016, affecting civilian shipping in areas subject to the attacks.
The presence of an Su-24 dropping live ordnance in the Russian account also bears an uncanny resemblance to 2017 Russian propaganda involving the USS Donald Cook’s visit to the Black Sea in 2014. Three years after the American destroyer entered and departed the Black Sea, Russian state television claimed that an Su-24 reported to have buzzed the destroyer then had actually been equipped with electronic warfare equipment that shut down all systems of the ship. Despite the manufacturer of the electronic warfare equipment issuing a statement that the equipment in question could not actually do so, and was not compatible with an Su-24 in any case, the story continues to be spread to this day.
Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, tweeted that the incident vindicated Ukraine’s position, saying: “Russia’s aggressive and provocative actions in the Black and Azov seas, its occupation & militarization of Crimea pose a lasting threat to Ukraine and allies. We need a new quality of cooperation between Ukraine & NATO allies in the Black Sea. “
The Russian Ministry of Defense now says that it has summoned the British ambassador over the “gross violation” of the United Nations Convention on The Law of the Sea, even as London asserts that the HMS Defender was exercising its right to innocent passage.