Russia warns it will bomb HMS Defender if it sails near Crimea again

Russia will directly bomb HMS Defender if it sails too close to Crimea again, its deputy foreign minister warns as MP Tobias Ellwood says tensions could spiral into an actual engagement after Black Sea stand-off

  • Russia’s deputy foreign minister Sergey Ryabkov warned against NATO taking ‘provocative steps’
  • He vowed that Russia will bomb any ships who ‘violate the state borders of the Russian federation’
  • HMS Defender sailed within the 12-mile zone of Crimea which Russia claims but the West does not recognise
  • Tobias Ellwood, Chair of the Defence Select Committee, admitted Britain is playing a ‘dangerous game’

A top Russian official has warned a British warship will be bombed the next time it sails too close to Crimea after warning shots were fired at HMS Defender on Wednesday.

The British Type 45 destroyer sailed within the 12-mile limit of Crimea near Cape Fiolent in the Black Sea which Russia claims as its own territory but the West sees as international waters.

After the flashpoint, which saw 20 Su-24s buzzing over the Royal Navy vessel, Russia’s deputy foreign minister Sergey Ryabkov warned: ‘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.

‘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.’

His comments come as Britain’s Chair of the Defence Select Committee, Tobias Ellwood, admitted there is a prospect of an engagment flaring up with Britain’s ‘dangerous game’ of sailing in disputed waters.

The former Defence Secretary told BBC 4: ‘There’s huge scope for an accident to occur, misinterpretation, leading to an actual kinetic engagement and it could be a bit of time before somebody grabs that red phone and calms things down.’  

Russia released footage filmed from one of its Su-24M attack jets which showed HMS Defender sailing off Crimea – but not the moment it alleges shots were fired and four bombs were dropped 

Images released by the Russian defence ministry shows the SU-24s buzzing above the destroyer and lining the vessel up in its crosshairs

Pictured: HMS Defender conducts close proximity sailing whilst on maritime operations in the Black Sea on June 17

Russia’s deputy foreign minister Sergey Ryabkov (pictured) has vowed to bomb a British warship the next time it sails too close to Crimea after warning shots were fired at HMS Defender on Wednesday

Russia claimed to have shot at HMS Defender, and to have dropped four bombs from an Su-24M warplane in waters ahead of the Royal Navy vessel.

Britain has denied the Russian version, and insists HMS Defender was either in Ukrainian or international waters at all times.

Britain, like other Western countries, does not accept Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea by military force as being legitimate in law.

But Ryabkov said today: ‘We are outraged by their [the UK’s] behaviour, and we would like to note that balancing on the brink of confrontation is fraught with very serious consequences for those who plan such events and then try to carry them out.’

Black Sea menace: One of two Russian patrol vessels with 30mm gun, circled, that fired heavy bursts towards the Royal Navy destroyer it was shadowing

Britain’s Chair of the Defence Select Committee, Tobias Ellwood, admitted it is a ‘dangerous game’ to provoke Russia and other powers by sailing in disputed waters

Vigilance: Crew member scans sea for Russian activity on board the vessel on Tuesday when the incident occured

A picture taken on Friday shows a ship from the Russian Black Sea Fleet (circled) shadowing USS Laboon , HMS Defender and the Dutch frigate HNLMS Evertsen

The diplomat said: ‘This is a very serious situation, we condemn the actions of the British side.’

He said: ‘The territorial integrity of the Russian Federation is inviolable.

‘The inviolability of its borders is an absolute imperative, and we will protect all this both through political-diplomatic and, when necessary, military methods.’  

Meanwhile a former Royal Navy chief accused Vladimir Putin of ‘playing to the home audience’ after Moscow’s bold claims of its use of force against HMS Defender. 

Lord Alan West, former Chief of Defence Intelligence, Commander in Chief of the Royal Navy and Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Security and Counter-Terrorism, said the Russian president’s behaviour was ‘appalling’.

Bear in the air: Co-pilot looks out as his Su-30 jet roars over the British warship during the close call that emerged on Tuesday

Lord Alan West accused Vladimir Putin of ‘playing to the home audience’ after Moscow’s bold claims of its use of force against HMS Defender

‘The bottom line is Putin is an expert at disinformation and his actions are very reckless, and we’ve seen that now for three or four years,’ he told LBC.

‘His behaviour is appalling.

‘There’s no doubt the (HMS) Defender was asserting her right of innocent passage from one port to another.

‘Putin wants to play to his home audience, he wants to tell them ‘aren’t I tough, look at that, I’ve made Britain go away’, and that’s why I think they lied about firing warning shots at the defender – which they didn’t do.

‘As per usual, I’m afraid, Putin’s organisation is lying about that.’

Lord West added that the behaviour was ‘dangerous and stupid’.

‘I would say it’s the behaviour of a rogue state, but Russia shouldn’t be a rogue state,’ he said.

Battle stations: Officers and crew in white anti-flash balaclavas and mittens feel the pressure yesterday as they dictate naval operations from Defender’s bridge

Some footage was allegedly shot from the Su-24M which is said to have dropped four bombs to deter the Royal Navy vessel. Above: Su-24Ms seen in the Russian video

Moscow boasted that an Su-24 dropped four bombs in the vessel’s path after it refused to back down and warning shots were fired from their patrol ship, but Britain said the destroyer stayed in international waters and no shots were fired.

Two Black Sea Fleet coastguard ships continued to shadow HMS Defender from 100 yards away while 20 military aircraft patrolled it from the skies as it charted its course from Odessa in Ukraine to Georgia past Crimea, which Russia has annexed but the West refuses to recognise.

It was the first time since the Cold War that Moscow acknowledged using live ammunition to deter a NATO warship, reflecting the growing risk of military incidents amid soaring tensions between Russia and the West, as Ukraine’s foreign minister appealed for further NATO help.    

Russia released footage filmed from one of its Su-24M attack jets which showed HMS Defender sailing off Crimea – but evidently not the moment it alleges shots were fired and four bombs were dropped. 

A map shows the route taken by HMS Defender during the alleged incident near the south coast of Crimea

Captain Vincent Owen said his mission was confident but non-confrontational and insisted he was maintaining course on an internationally recognised shipping lane but Mr Beale said it was a ‘deliberate move to make a point to Russia’.

Moscow summoned Britain’s military attaché and ambassador Deborah Bronnert to explain why the destroyer entered the waters.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova also denounced what she called ‘rude British provocation that defies international law’. 

The Ministry of Defence and Number 10 insist the incident never happened, adding that Russia was carrying out pre-arranged exercises and Defender was conducting an ‘innocent passage through Ukrainian territorial waters’.   

Releasing the footage of HMS Defender from the air, Russian defence ministry’s TV channel Zvezda said: ‘In the footage can be seen the culprit of the incident, the destroyer Defender.

‘It is not known at what moment the footage was shot, either before or after the warning shots which forced the ship to change course and leave the territory of the Russian Federation.’

Some footage was allegedly shot from the Su-24M which is said to have dropped four bombs to deter the Royal Navy vessel.

Other footage may have been from a military drone.

A caption said the footage showed a joint operation by the FSB Border Service and the Black Sea Fleet ‘uppressing violations of the Russian state border by the British destroyer HMS Defender’.

HMS Defender is armed with missiles, an air defence system, an armed Lynx Wildcat helicoper, Westland Merlin helictopers and various naval guns. Russia’s Su-24 jets are equipped with 23mm cannon, laser-guided air-to-surface and air-to-air missiles and can also carry tactical nuclear bombs

In an unusual move, Russia also released footage of Britain’s defence attaché being summoned in Moscow. 

Such meetings are normally private but a video was released to state media fuelling the assumption that Moscow was using the alleged incident for propaganda.

‘In the wake of a violation of the Russian Federation’s border by a Royal Navy destroyer, the defence attaché at the UK embassy in Moscow has been summoned to the Russian Defence Ministry,’ said a statement. 

The Russian defence ministry had claimed a patrol ship first opened fire at 12.06pm and shot again two minutes later at HMS Defender after it refused to listen to radio warnings about entering its territorial waters.

Around ten minutes later, the Su-24 dropped four OFAB-250s in the path of the British vessel, forcing it to retreat after venturing two miles inside their waters, Russia said.  

But the MoD issued a swift response to the claims, saying: ‘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.’

Tom Tugendhat, chair of the UK’s Foreign Affairs Committee slammed the government of Russia’s Vladimir Putin in a pair of tweets on Wednesday.

‘Firing shots at ships in international waters is criminal. Putin’s regime has: Used chemical weapons in the UK, Murdered opponents across Europe, Set explosions in Prague, Invaded and illegally occupied Ukraine and Georgia, Kept the Russian people hostage for a generation,’ he wrote.

‘Now it appears they lied about it,’ Tugendhat said in a second tweet.

‘For a mafia regime they really are pretty rubbish. But then they’ve so robbed the people and stripped out the country that there’s nothing left. Russia deserves better than these thieves.’

Won by conquest, given away as a ‘gift’, now occupied by force: Russia’s history in Crimea and the Black Sea

Prince Grigory Potemkin, who established the Black Sea Fleet in Crimea in 1783

The Black Sea – and the Crimean peninsula which juts into it – are a strategic crossroads between Europe, the Middle East and Asia which has been contested by Empires and nations for centuries.

The sea itself contains vital trading routes, is bordered by five of Russia’s near-neighbours, and today hosts vital energy pipelines and fibre optic cables.

For Russia to assert power in the waters, control of Crimea – which contains its main Black Sea port at Sevastopol and controls the Kerch Strait leading to the nearby Sea of Azov – is essential. 

Crimea has, at one time or another, come under the control of the Greeks, Persians, Romans, Mongols, Ottomans.

It was not until 1783 that it fell fully under the control of the Russian Empire when Russian generals Alexander Suvorov and Mikhail Kamensky led a force of 8,000 men to victory against an Ottoman army of 40,000 at the the Battle of Kozludzha.

Russia’s Prince Grigory Potemkin quickly established the Russian Black Sea Fleet at the port of Sevastopol, from where he asserted naval power over the Black Sea, it neighbours including Georgia, Ukraine and Turkey, and projected power further into the Mediterranean.

Crimea also turned into a key trading post. On the eve of World War 1 in 1914 – some 50 per cent of all Russia’s exports and a full 90 per cent of its agricultural exports passed through Bosphorus Strait which leads out of the Black Sea. 

In 1954 Crimea was given as a ‘gift’ by Nikita Khrushchev to Ukraine, ostensibly to mark the 300th anniversary of Ukraine’s merger with Tsarist Russia, but more likely to secure Ukraine’s support for Khrushchev’s leadership and to cement Ukraine as part of the Soviet Union.

Because Ukraine was then part of the Union, Moscow maintained control over Crimea and its vital ports – at least until 1991 when the union collapsed and Ukraine became and independent county.

Following Ukraine’s independence, access to the peninsula became a bargaining chip between the two nations, with Ukraine recognising Russia’s right to the port at Sevastopol in return for concessions such as writing off debts and taking control of part of the Black Sea fleet.

But in 2014, the pro-Moscow government of Viktor Yanukovych was overthrown in a popular uprising that wanted to draw the country closer to Europe.

Fearing the loss of the port at Sevastopol, Putin marched troops into Crimea and seized control of it – later holding a ‘referendum’ which showed majority support for the region to become part of Russia, though the result is viewed as far from credible.

Today, Moscow is in control of the peninsula and refers to it as part of its territory, though most world bodies refer to the region as ‘occupied Crimea’.

The Black Sea Fleet remains one of Russia’s largest and most formidable, thought to comprise a total of 47 ships, seven submarines and 25,000 troops, mostly marines.

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