The top commander’s comments come in the wake of Wednesday’s incident involving the HMS Defender, which sailed into Russian waters off Crimea as Russian warships and aircraft swarmed around it to force the ship out.
Wednesday’s incident in the Black Sea could create the risk of “unwarranted escalation,” Gen Nick Carter, the chief of Britain’s defence staff, has said, warning that a single miscalculation in the “cat and mouse” game played by Britain and Russia could lead to a “full-scale war.”
“The thing that keeps me awake in bed at night is a miscalculation that comes from unwarranted escalation. The sort of thing we saw in the Black Sea on Wednesday is the sort of thing it could come from. It wouldn’t have done on that occasion, but it’s the type of thing one needs to think quite hard about,” the general said, speaking to The Times in an interview published on Friday.
Carter went on to describe the Black Sea clash as a “classic example of the battle of the narratives,” and suggested that “the jury is out as to who won that battle.”
Carter, 62, has served as chief of Britain’s defence staff since 2018. He has repeatedly expressed concerns that the British military has “fallen behind” potential adversaries, including Russia and China, and made claims that the country was under attack by cyberactors hailing from Russia and other countries on a daily basis. Last month, he reiterated his claims about the ‘Russian threat’ to Britain, accusing of Moscow of “flexing its muscles in Britain’s back yard” amid claims of the alleged deployment of ‘nosy’ Russian subs encircling Britain.
On Wednesday, a Russian warship was forced to fire warning shots near the HMS Defender while a Russian fighter jet dropped bombs in the British destroyer’s path after it refused to heed warnings to leave Russian waters immediately. Moscow says the ship sailed two nautical miles into Russian territorial waters off Crimea, and came close to the highly sensitive military base at Sevastopol – home base to the Russian Black Sea Fleet.
After the ship was chased out, London dismissed Moscow’s claims on shots being fired in the ship’s vicinity, calling them “Russian disinformation” and suggesting that the ship peacefully sailed through “Ukrainian” waters as Russia carried out “gunnery exercises” nearby. A BBC journalist onboard the ship said he did hear shots, as well as multiple Russian warplanes buzzing overhead, while the Russian military subsequently released several videos which confirmed the severity of the incident.
Possible Premeditated Incident
On Thursday, unnamed informed sources told The Telegraph that the Black Sea provocation was planned in advance and approved by Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday. The idea was reportedly concocted and planned by Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, while Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab opposed it amid fears that Moscow might “try to take advantage” of the incident somehow. The Russian military and officials in Moscow have done just that, poking embarrassing holes in London’s convoluted narrative on the events and releasing evidence to back up its claims. On Friday, Russian military spokesman Igor Konashenkov suggested that the “epic fiasco of a provocation” pulled by Britain on Wednesday would prove to be a “stain on the reputation of the Royal Navy” for a long time to come.