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Russia and UK trade war of words over Black Sea incident

A cruise along the coast of Crimea by the UK Royal Navy Type 45 destroyer HMS Defender on 23 June has sparked a diplomatic incident between London and Moscow.

The Russian Ministry of Defence (MoD) announced warning shots had been fired near the destroyer by a border patrol vessel, and a Naval Aviation jet dropped four bombs in the UK ship's path. A BBC correspondent on board Defender reported later on 23 June that the destroyer had made a deliberate move into Russian-controlled waters, and more than 20 Russian aircraft buzzed the ship at low level during the incident.

UK Secretary of State for Defence Ben Wallace disputed the Russian account during an evidence session of the House of Commons Defence Select Committee on 23 June, saying Russian naval forces had been carrying out a training exercise in the vicinity of Defender as the destroyer was “conducting innocent passage through Ukrainian territorial waters in accordance with international law”.

Wallace denied that the warning shots had been fired at the ship, saying its crew had “heard the Russian training exercise” at the rear of the ship. He told the defence committee that the Russian foreign ministry had summoned the British ambassador in Moscow to protest about the incident.

“This morning, HMS Defender carried out a routine transit from Odessa towards Georgia across the Black Sea,” Wallace posted on the MoD's Twitter feed. “As is normal for this route, she entered an internationally recognised traffic separation corridor. She exited that corridor safely at 0945 BST. As is routine, Russian vessels shadowed her passage, and she was made aware of training exercises in her wider vicinity.”

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