Britain was unexpectedly embroiled in a diplomatic and military dispute with Russia on Wednesday after Royal Navy destroyer HMS Defender briefly sailed through territorial waters off the coast of the disputed territory of Crimea.
The warship sailed for about an hour in the morning within the 12-mile limit off Cape Fiolent on a direct route between the Ukrainian port of Odesa and Georgia, prompting Russian complaints and a disagreement about whether warning shots were fired.
What Russia didn’t tell you that Russian Navy’s Tugboat Sergei Balk and supply vessels were involved harassing HMS Defender in Black Sea. The tug Sergei Balk built for the Black Sea Fleet is the Project 23470 lead ship, the press office specified. The new tugs have a lifting capacity of 200 tonnes and an operating range of 300 nautical miles and their sea endurance is 30 days.
More than 15 tugs, tankers and support vessels of various classes of the Black Sea Fleet were involved in solving the tasks of towing and mooring operations of Black Sea Fleet, during the incident with Royal Navy’s HMS Defender, reported Russian Tass news.
Tugboats towed Russian Navy’s patrol boats which fired warning shots but it was not sailing with its own power.
Russia’s defence ministry initially claimed warning shots had been fired at HMS Defender and that one of its war planes had dropped four bombs nearby to force the destroyer to leave the area.
Britain’s Ministry of Defence denied both incidents took place, saying in a statement “no warning shots had been fired”, but a BBC journalist who was on the board the destroyer said the Russian military had “harassed” the ship.
Project 23470 ships are designed to tow vessels in ice-covered and ice-free waters, assist them within port areas and in mooring, provide escort operations at sea, extinguish fires on floating platforms and at coastal facilities and fuel burning on the water surface, and also to refloat ships and vessels.
The fleet support vessels also carry out the tasks of replenishing the fuel and fresh water supplies of the ships taking part in the event. We are talking about sea and harbor tugs, as well as tankers.
The crews of the support vessels of the Baltic Fleet have sufficient practical experience in solving tasks as intended in the sea and ocean zones, as well as in the roadsteads of the fleet basing points.
Underlining the tension in the region is Britain’s increasing closeness to Ukraine’s military, and in particular its navy, at a time when the country remains in conflict with Russia in its eastern Donbas region and elsewhere.
Earlier this week, the two countries signed a naval deal on HMS Defender when it was docked in Odesa, which will see the two countries jointly produce eight small warships and the two countries work on creating a new naval base on the Black Sea.
Ukraine is understood to have been happy with the plan for the British warship to sail near the Crimean coast, but had hoped that the UK would be more assertive in public when the Russians began to complain.
Dmytro Kuleba, the country’s foreign minister, said Russia’s action showed an aggressive and provocative policy that constituted a threat to Ukraine and its allies.
“A clear proof of Ukraine’s position: Russia’s aggressive and provocative actions in the Black and Azov seas, its occupation and militarisation of Crimea pose a lasting threat to Ukraine and allies,” he said. “We need a new quality of cooperation between Ukraine and Nato allies in the Black Sea.”
Britain and Russia routinely test each other’s defences, with Russian jets often buzzing close to British aerospace and warships periodically sailing down the Channel. However, incidents involving open fire are very rare.
Relations between Britain and Russia are already at rock bottom, following accusations – denied by Russia – that it sent two GRU intelligence officers to Salisbury in 2018 to poison a former spy with Novichok nerve agent.
Coupled with the earlier poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko with polonium, Russia’s annexation of Crimea, its alleged cyberattacks and the hacking of Western democratic institutions, there is almost zero trust between the two countries.
A recent Whitehall report described Russia as the greatest military threat facing this country.
Relations between Russia and NATO allies have been tense in the Black Sea since the annexation.
Russian warplanes have buzzed US destroyers on routine operations in the Black Sea and US reconnaissance aircraft conduct regular patrols above it.
HMS Defender has been operating as part of the UK’s Carrier Strike Group 21, which the UK Defense Ministry calls “the largest concentration of maritime and air power to leave the UK in a generation.” The flotilla is led by the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth and US and Dutch warships are also deployed with the group.
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