Britain and Russia have once again clashed over an incident last week in the Black Sea as a British warship passed by Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, which Russia seized in 2014.
President Vladimir Putin reiterated during his annual call-in show on June 30 that one of Russia’s warships fired warning shots and that a warplane dropped bombs in the path of Britain’s HMS Defender to force it from an area near Crimea that Moscow claims as its territorial waters.
In a quick response to Putin, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman denied any wrongdoing and said the vessel acted in accordance with international law as it conducted innocent passage through Ukrainian territorial waters.
The June 23 incident was the latest flashpoint between the Kremlin and the West amid heightened tensions sparked by Russia’s annexation of the peninsula, a move not recognized by most countries but one that gives it access to a long Black Sea coast.
Britain’s Defense Ministry has consistently denied that the HMS Defender had been fired upon, saying that Russia was carrying out a previously announced “gunnery exercise” in the area.
Russia seized Ukraine’s Crimea region in March 2014, sending in troops and staging a referendum denounced as illegitimate by at least 100 countries after Moscow-friendly Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted amid a wave of public protests.
Putin also dragged the United States into the equation, saying during the call-in show that a U.S. reconnaissance aircraft was operating in sync with the HMS Defender.
The U.S. military did have aircraft operating in the area, said U.S. Navy Captain Wendy L. Snyder, chief of public affairs at U.S. European Command headquarters, in an e-mail response to an inquiry from RFE/RL.
She did not elaborate but added that Pentagon spokesman John Kirby earlier this week said that claims by Russia about any incident are “false” and “disinformation.”
She also said the U.S. Navy routinely operates in the Black Sea with allies and partners “and we are committed to our transparency in doing so.”
The ongoing Sea Breeze naval exercises taking place in the Black Sea is an example, she said.
The United States and Ukraine are leading a group of 32 countries — including most Black Sea nations, NATO allies, and partners — in the exercises, which kicked off on June 28 in the Black Sea.