MOSCOW — A Russian warship fired warning shots and a Russian warplane dropped bombs Wednesday to force a British destroyer away from an area in the Black Sea near Crimea that Russia claims as its territorial waters.
The incident marked the first time since the Cold War that Moscow has used live ammunition to deter a NATO warship, reflecting growing risks of military incidents amid soaring Russia-West tensions.
The Russian Defense Ministry said the Russian warship fired warning shots after the British missile destroyer Defender had ignored a notice against intrusion in Russia’s territorial waters. It said that a Russian Su-24 bomber also dropped four bombs ahead of the British ship to persuade it to change course. Minutes later, the British warship left the Russian waters, the ministry said.
The Russian Defense Ministry said it has summoned the U.K. military attache in Moscow to protest the British destroyer’s maneuver.
The U.K. Ministry of Defense said it was aware of the reports but had no immediate comment.
HMS Defender, a Type 45 destroyer, is part of the U.K. Carrier Strike Group currently heading to the Indo-Pacific region. However, it was announced earlier this month that it would be temporarily breaking away from the group to carry out its “own set of missions” in the Black Sea.
Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014, a move that was not recognized by most countries in the world, gaining access to the peninsula’s long Black Sea coastline. Russia has frequently chafed at NATO warships visits near Crimea, casting them as destabilizing.
NATO members Turkey, Romania and Bulgaria all are on the Black Sea, but warships from the U.S., U.K. and other NATO allies also have made increasingly frequent visits there in a show of support for Ukraine.
Speaking Wednesday just before the incident, Gen. Valery Gerasimov, the chief of the General Staff of the Russian armed forces, sharply criticized the deployments of NATO warships near Russian waters.
“The moves by warships of the U.S. and its allies have been clearly provocative,” Gerasimov said at an international security conference in Moscow organized by the Russian Defense Ministry. “It creates preconditions for incidents and doesn’t help ease tensions in the military sphere.”
He charged that the British destroyer Dragon intruded into the Russian waters near Crimea in October, and the U.S. destroyer John McCain violated the Russian border in the Sea of Japan in November.
In April, Russia imposed restrictions on foreign navy ships’ movements near Crimea until November in a move that drew strong complaints from Ukraine and the West. Russia has rejected that criticism and noted that the restrictions wouldn’t interfere with commercial shipping.
Earlier this year, Russia also beefed up its troops near the border with Ukraine and warned Ukrainian authorities against using force to reclaim control of the country’s east, where a conflict with Russia-backed separatists has killed more than 14,000 people in seven years. Moscow withdrew some of its forces after sweeping maneuvers, but Ukrainian officials say that the bulk of them have remained.
Associated Press writer Jill Lawless in London contributed to this report.
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