LAST Wednesday, a Russian patrol ship and fighter jet fired warning shots and dropped bombs along the path of a British destroyer that had veered into Russian territorial waters off Crimea in the Black Sea.
London initially denied that any incident took place, claiming that the Royal Navy ship was merely enjoying ‘innocent passage’ through ‘Ukrainian’ waters.
In the wake of the incident, the Russian Defence Ministry has appealed to the Pentagon and the command of the UK’s Naval forces, urging them to ‘be guided by reason’ and to avoid dangerous actions that might ‘test’ Russia’s defences.
‘We call on the Pentagon and the command of Britain’s naval forces, which are sending their warships to the Black Sea, not to tempt fate and be led on a string by Ukraine’s “mosquito fleet admirals”, but to be guided by reason,’ Russian MoD spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov said in a briefing last Friday.
Commenting on Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby’s repetition of claims made by Britain’s military that Moscow’s statements about warning shots being fired near HMS Defender were mere ‘Russian disinformation’, Konashenkov said he didn’t find the remarks surprising.
‘The compulsive attempts by London and by Pentagon spokesman John Kirby to deny the obvious and call everything “disinformation”, even after Russia published footage of the warning shots, and despite the direct evidence by the destroyer’s crew, are not surprising,’ he said.
A still image taken from a video released by Russia’s Defence Ministry shortly after the incident allegedly shows the British Royal Navy’s Type 45 destroyer HMS Defender filmed from a Russian military aircraft in the Black Sea, on June 23, 2021.
The Russian military and the FSB’s border services released several videos of the HMS Defender incident, including a comprehensive, full-length video showing Russian coast guard boats warning the British ship that they would open fire if the vessel didn’t leave Russian waters immediately.
Konashenkov went on to suggest that Kirby, a retired rear US Navy rear admiral, was perfectly aware of Russia’s naval capabilities in the Black Sea region.
‘Who, if not former Rear Admiral Kirby, knows better than most that the Russian armed forces reliably protect Crimea’s security and would see HMS Defender only as a fat target for the Black Sea Fleet’s anti-ship missiles anywhere in the Black Sea,’ he said.
Calling last Wednesday’s incident an ‘epic fiasco of a provocation’, Konashenkov suggested that the incident would prove to be a ‘stain on the reputation of the Royal Navy’ for a long time to come.
Shortly after noon on 23 June, (last Wednesday) a Russian patrol ship and an Su-24M fighter jest fired warning shots and dropped bombs along the HMS Defender’s path after the British warship had sailed to within ten nautical miles off the Crimean coast – putting it two nautical miles inside Russian waters under the 1982 Convention on the Law of the Sea, to which both Russia and the UK are signatories.
Britain’s Defence Ministry denied that any incident had taken place and that its ship was merely conducting an ‘innocent passage through Ukrainian territorial waters in accordance with international law,’ chalking down Russian firing to a nearby ‘gunnery exercise’.
However, a BBC journalist who just happened to be aboard the British ship appeared to dispute the MoD’s story.
He reported that he did see multiple Russian warplanes buzzing the HMS Defender and that he heard gunfire.
Moscow has urged London to get its story straight, and to avoid any similar ‘provocations’ in the future.
Russian officials went on to suggest that the Royal Navy should rename the HMS Defender ‘HMS Aggressor’ following the incident.
Last Thursday, while on a visit to the UK’s Aldershot Garrison in Hampshire to mark British Armed Forces Week, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson repeated the MoD’s claims about the warship’s ‘innocent passage’.
He said he found it ‘wholly appropriate’ to carry out such activities and to continue to avoid recognising Russia’s jurisdiction over Crimea.
The Black Sea peninsula and its strategic city of Sevastopol promptly organised referendums in March 2014 to secede from Ukraine and rejoin Russia after a US- and EU-orchestrated coup had toppled the elected government in Kiev, amid fears that the new nationalist authorities might repress Crimea’s ethnic Russian majority.
Also last Thursday, the newspaper The Telegraph, citing insider sources, reported that the HMS Defender’s passage through Russian waters was a preplanned operation devised by Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, and that Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab expressed opposition to the idea before Prime Minister Johnson ultimately approved it last Monday.
It remains unclear what No. 10 was hoping to achieve via the deployment. The Russian Black Sea Fleet is one of the country’s largest, most powerful and modernised, and, when complemented by shore- and ground-based defence systems in Crimea itself, is capable of detecting, tracking and targeting enemy vessels at any point in the 436,400 square km body of water.
- The People’s Republic of China plans to spend the equivalent of about $202 billion on defence in the fiscal year 2021.
In recent years, the country has developed and produced a range of advanced missile systems, aircraft and warships.
Outgoing NATO Military Coordination Committee chair Stuart Peach, the alliance’s most senior military officer, has expressed concern over what he referred to as the ‘shocking’ speed of China’s military modernisation efforts, and its growing overseas diplomatic influence.
‘It is quite shocking how quickly China has built ships, how much China has modernised its air force, how much it has invested in cyber and other forms of information management, not least facial recognition,’ Peach said, speaking to the Financial Times ahead of his departure from his post last Friday.
‘I think it’s very important to keep an eye on that. What do you do if you’re a leader in China with a modernised and powerful large force? You deploy it, you move it around,’ Peach suggested.
He also pointed to Beijing’s network of ‘large embassy footprints’ in countries around the world, saying many of them are now staffed with ‘very large defence sections, often populated by general officers’, and wondered: ‘What’s it all for?’
Peach also complained about what he said was the growing strategic military partnership between China and Russia, saying in the course of his career, he has seen Russian-Chinese drills evolve from ‘relatively minor’ operations to ‘major exercises and training opportunities.’
He added however, that he doesn’t envision the current Russian-Chinese partnership lasting forever, claiming that the two powers might clash over the Arctic some day.
Stuart, a career Royal Air Force officer with the rank of air chief marshal, stepped down from his post as chairman of NATO’s Military Coordination Committee last Friday, and was succeeded by Royal Netherlands Navy admiral Rob Bauer.
The chairmanship of the committee is formally tasked with advising the North Atlantic Council – NATO’s principle decision-making body – on matters of military policy and strategy, but is largely considered a symbolic job, with policymakers in Washington widely believed to call the shots in the alliance on all important matters since its creation in 1949.