Russian warships and aircraft swarmed a Royal Navy destroyer on Wednesday after it entered Russian territorial waters off Crimea and proceeded to ignore border guard orders to leave the area immediately. The confrontation included a Russian vessel and a Su-24M jet firing warning shots near the British vessel.
Wednesday’s incident in the Black Sea involving Russia’s military and border patrol forces and the HMS Defender warship could have sparked actual fighting, while Moscow considers reports that Prime Minister Boris Johnson may have personally approved the ship’s illegal deployment a “very serious” matter, Andrei Kelin, Russia’s Ambassador to the UK has said.
“The nightmare of this whole situation is that [UK authorities] are trying to reinforce their political position with a military provocation, which really could lead us to a serious military incident, which the UK’s chief of defence staff admitted last night,” Kelin said, speaking to Russian media on Saturday, and referring to Gen. Nick Carter’s recent comments.
Carter spoke to The Times newspaper about the Black Sea incident on Friday, and suggested that the danger of a “miscalculation” resulting “from unwarranted escalation” was something that kept him “awake in bed at night.”
Kelin described the state of relations between Russia and the UK as being at a “zero point” from which it will now be necessary to recover.
Asked to comment on a report by The Telegraph on Thursday which suggested that PM Johnson personally approved the HMS Defender’s illegal deployment in Russian waters, Kelin said he has not seen any information that verifies the reporting, but indicated that if this was indeed the case, it would be a “very serious” matter.
“On the question of whether the Prime Minister and other senior officials of the government were involved in the decision-making, I do not yet have accurate information. I do not know – I do not really understand, to be honest, the decision-making mechanism involved, especially in the naval sphere. I would not rush on this question,” he specified.
“I am thinking about how these decisions were made. If they really were taken in the manner that newspapers have described…if this really happened, it is very serious, of course,” Kelin stressed.In its reporting, The Telegraph indicated that the idea to deliberately deploy the HMS Defender inside Russian territorial waters was concocted by Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, and personally approved by Johnson on Monday. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab is said to have opposed the idea, warning that Moscow might somehow “try to take advantage” of the situation.
Kelin indicated that he is now preparing to meet with British officials responsible for foreign affairs and security issues, and hopes to get an indication from them on what really happened on Wednesday.
In their comments on the matter thus far, Prime Minister Johnson and Britain’s defence ministry have maintained that the HMS Defender was enjoying “innocent passage through Ukrainian territorial waters in accordance with international law,” and have dismissed Russian officials’ statements that warning shots were fired near the ship to force it to leave the area around Crimea.
Footage of Russian Black Sea Fleet and Border Service of the Federal Security Service's prevention of the breach of the Russian Federation state border committed by the UK Navy destroyer «Defender» pic.twitter.com/4VnAlMjK4Y
— Минобороны России (@mod_russia) June 23, 2021
No Way Out
Separately on Saturday, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova suggested that the HMS Defender incident left London without a way to get out of the situation with its reputation intact.
“This is not just destabilising behaviour by NATO, this is provocative behaviour…The behaviour of the British destroyer in the Black Sea doesn’t leave them with any way to extricate themselves from the situation,” she said.The spokeswoman added that Moscow understands that the Western alliance’s stream of exercises with Ukraine, which includes seven separate drills this year alone, are aimed at ensuring “endless destabilisation along the Russia’s border,” and at provoking a reaction from Moscow which can then be branded as aggression.
Zakharova also warned that the situation involving the HMS Defender was an indication that the NATO alliance is blocking the special communication channels through which it would be possible to prevent such incidents from taking place.
“Everything is spelled out in the relevant conventions which regulate the law of the sea. There is a whole host of documents, provisions and interpretations…But the most important thing lies elsewhere: all sorts of things can happen, equipment [can break down], there is the human factor, a lot of incidents have taken place in history, including involving navigation. But even when a violation is made inevitable due to a technical or natural issue, there is always a way to quickly escape the situation, if your message is friendly, open and peaceful. But the situation now with the destroyer shows that all existing special communications channels between governments have been blocked from the NATO side, simply blocked,” the spokeswoman said.