George Eustice discusses HMS Defender route
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Tensions flared between Britain and Moscow on Wednesday after the HMS Defender sailed near Crimea. A state media broadcast issued the chilling challenge to the US and UK, warning Russia will defend its border by any means.
Moscow’s Defence Ministry told the US and UK it was ill-advised to approach the coast of Crimea.
Major General Igor Konashenkov, the ministry’s spokesperson, told the Pentagon and the Royal Navy “not to tempt fate in vain”.
He added the HMS Defender was “not more than a target” for the Black Sea fleet’s defences.
More than 20 Russian aircraft and two coastguard ships shadowed the British warship as it sailed near Crimea.
On Wednesday, Moscow claimed one of its patrol ships fired warning shots near the HMS Defender.
Russia’s Defence Minister also claimed jets dropped bombs in the ship’s path as it sailed around 12 miles away from Crimea.
The UK Government rejected Russia’s account of the incident and denied that any warning shots had been fired.
The Ministry of Defence added in a statement: “We believe the Russians were undertaking a gunnery exercise in the Black Sea and provided the maritime community with prior-warning of their activity.
“No shots were directed at HMS Defender and we do not recognise the claim that bombs were dropped in her path.”
A BBC correspondent described hostile warnings over the radio as the warship’s crew prepared for a possible confrontation, disputing the Government’s claims.
Sergei Ryabkov, Deputy Foreign Minister, also threatened the UK and US, suggesting the West is failing to accept Crimea was part of Russia.
He reiterated claims Russia was ready to defend its borders using all means, including military force.
On Friday, he said: “What can we do? We can appeal to common sense, demand respect for international law.
“If this does not help, we can bomb not only in the direction but also on target, if our colleagues do not understand.
“I warn everyone violating the state borders of the Russian Federation under the slogan of free navigation, from such provocative steps, because the security of our country comes first.”
Despite internationally recognised as part of Ukraine, Russia claims Crimea as its own territory.
In 2014, Russia annexed the peninsula, sparking international outrage with fears of conflict with Ukraine still present.
In April, Moscow warned of a conflict after more than 100,000 troops amassed near Ukraine’s border.
US President Joe Biden recently held a summit in Switzerland with Russian leader Vladimir Putin.
Speaking after the meeting, Mr Biden revealed he told Mr Putin of the USA’s “unwavering commitment to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine”, but added “no threats or scare tactics” were issued.
Boris Johnson was asked about the HMS Defender’s route on Thursday, and insisted he believes “it was wholly appropriate to use international waters”.
In an outright challenge to Russia, the Prime Minister added: “By the way the important point is that we don’t recognise the Russian annexation of Crimea.
“This is part of sovereign Ukrainian territory.
“It was entirely right that we should vindicate 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.
“We don’t recognise the Russian annexation of Crimea, it was illegal, these are Ukrainian waters and it was entirely right to use them to go from A to B.”
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