Prime minister Boris Johnson say HMS Defender 'entirely right' in dispute with Russian forces near Crimea
THE prime minister Boris Johnson has insisted HMS Defender was ‘entirely right’ to pass through international waters around Crimea as Russia threatened to retaliate if there was a repeat of the incident.
The Portsmouth-based destroyer was travelling 12 miles off the coast of the territory yesterday when nearby Russian military units warned they would open fire unless the vessel changed course.
The close-encounter has led to conflicting reports from the Ministry of Defence and the Russian Defence Ministry, which claimed it had fired warning shots at HMS Defender.
But the UK government has dismissed the claim and said the salvo – recorded by a BBC journalist onboard the British destroyer – was in fact a previously declared ‘gunnery exercise’ conducted by Russian forces.
Now the prime minister Boris Johnson has defended HMS Defender, saying the warships’s route was ‘wholly appropriate’ and that it was part of an international Carrier Strike Group that is ‘sticking up for our values’.
But speaking to reporters at a barracks in Aldershot, Hampshire, Mr Johnson sidestepped a question on whether he had personally authorised HMS Defender's voyage.The prime minister said: ‘These are a matter for the MoD (Ministry of Defence) but if you want my view I think it was wholly appropriate to use international waters, and by the way the important point is that we don't recognise the Russian annexation of Crimea, this is part of a sovereign Ukrainian territory, it was entirely right that we should indicate the law and pursue freedom of navigation in the way that we did, take the shortest route between two points, and that's what we did.’
The prime minister's official spokesman also refused to be drawn on whether Mr Johnson personally authorised the mission, telling reporters: ‘I'm not going to get into operational military decision-making.’
The MoD denied claims that shots were fired by a Russian patrol boat towards HMS Defender and that a warplane dropped four high-explosive fragmentation bombs in its path during its passage through the Black Sea.
Asked whether the UK was telling ‘barefaced lies’ over the incident, as alleged by Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, Mr Johnson said: ‘Well, they're the bear.
‘That's not my information and my understanding is that the Carrier Strike Group proceeded in the way you would expect through international waters and in accordance with the law.’
HMS Defender is part of the UK Carrier Strike Group – with Portsmouth-based aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth at its heart – currently heading to the Indo-Pacific region.
The Type 45 destroy has temporarily broken away from the group to carry out separate missions in the Black Sea.
Russia's deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, said ‘the inviolability of the Russian borders is an absolute imperative’, adding that it will be protected ‘by all means, diplomatic, political and military if needed’.Asked what Russia would do if a similar incident happened again, he said: ‘We may appeal to reason and demand to respect international law.
‘If it doesn't help, we may drop bombs and not just in the path but right on target if colleagues don't get it otherwise.’
The Russian government, which annexed Crimea in 2014, has repeatedly denounced the movement of Nato warships in the Black Sea, seen as offering support to Ukraine.