Britain plays down Black Sea warship incident with Russia

British Royal Navy's Type 45 destroyer HMS Defender arrives at the Black Sea port of Odessa, Ukraine

Britain on Thursday played down an incident in the Black Sea off the Crimea penisula in which Russia said it fired warning shots at a British destroyer.

Such gunnery exercises were not particularly abnormal, Environment Secretary George Eustice told Sky.

Russia, one of the world’s biggest military powers, said the British warship had breached its territorial waters – which Britain and most of the world says belong to Ukraine – and cast Britain’s actions as a blatant provocation.

Britain disputed Russia’s account, saying no warning shots had been fired and that no bombs had been dropped in the path of HMS Defender.

“I don’t think there is anything in this particular event that people should get too carried away by,” Eustice said.

“I don’t think there were warning shots, there was a gunnery exercise that was taking place, and it’s not uncommon for the Russians to do this in this area. The incident is not particularly abnormal in that sense.”

Russia seized and annexed the Crimea peninsula from Ukraine in 2014 and considers areas around the peninsula’s coast to be Russian waters. Western countries deem the Crimea part of Ukraine and reject Russia’s claim to the seas around it.

Britain’s BBC released footage from the ship showing a Russian officer warning that he would shoot if the British ship did not change course. Russia released footage filmed from a Russian SU-24 bomber flying close to the British ship.

Russia said the British ship had ventured as far as 3 km (2 miles) into Russian waters near Cape Fiolent, a landmark on Crimea’s southern coast near the port of Sevastopol, headquarters of the Russian Navy’s Black Sea fleet.

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