Russia said its forces fired warning shots at a British destroyer off the coast of Crimea on Wednesday, but the United Kingdom denied the allegations.
The Russian Defense Ministry said the HMS Defender made a 3 km incursion into the waters of the Black Sea that Russia claims are near the peninsula, which it annexed from Ukraine in 2014.
The British Ministry of Defense denied firing any direct shots at the ship.
Ben Wallace, Britain’s defense secretary, said HMS Defender had carried out a “routine crossing” on Wednesday morning from Odessa towards Georgia via the Black Sea.
“As is usual on this path, [the destroyer] Enter an internationally recognized traffic separation lane. I exited this lane safely at 0945 GMT. As usual, the Russian ships shadowed their passage and were briefed on the exercises in their wider surroundings,” Wallace said.
The Russian Defense Ministry said that after HMS Defender did not respond to a threat from Russian forces to open fire, a Coast Guard vessel fired warning shots at it.
Minutes later, Russia’s Black Sea Fleet scrambled with a Su-24M attack aircraft that dropped four high-explosive bombs onto the ship’s path before it exited the waters, according to the ministry.
The disputed claims come at a time of heightened tensions between Russia and NATO. Most countries do not recognize Russian control over Crimea and its surrounding waters.
NATO countries have sent several warships on visits to the region in recent years in a show of support for Ukraine, drawing criticism from Moscow.
In 2018, Russia detained three Ukrainian Navy ships trying to cross the peninsula into Kiev-controlled territory through the Kerch Strait.
HMS Defender, which is part of the deployment of the British aircraft carrier strike group, is in the Black Sea this week as part of an exercise to enforce Ukraine’s territorial integrity.
The commander of the Royal Navy met Ukraine’s deputy defense minister aboard the destroyer in Odessa on Tuesday to sign an agreement related to Britain to help boost Ukraine’s naval capabilities.
The cooperation will include the training of Ukrainian Navy personnel, the establishment of new naval bases, and the procurement of two Sandown-class mine hunters.
The Ministry of Defense in Kiev said in a statement that Ukrainian special forces were conducting joint exercises practicing the “unexpected capture of enemy ships” on the HMS Defender with their counterparts in the United States and the United Kingdom.
Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba wrote on Twitter in response to Moscow’s allegations that “Russia’s aggressive and provocative actions in the Black and Azov seas, its occupation and militarization of Crimea are a constant threat to Ukraine and its allies.”