Russia: Jets heard flying over UK vessel in Black Sea clash
The UK has refuted claims from Moscow that a Royal Navy ship was on the receiving end of warning shots in the Black Sea earlier today. The Ministry of Defence was responding to a statement from Russia that claimed a warplane had dropped four bombs close to the ship after it ventured two miles into Crimea’s waters. The ship, HMS Defender, was sailing off the coast of the heavily disputed territory which is annexed by Russia.
This is a route which was a “routine transit from Odessa towards Georgia across the Black Sea” using an “internationally recognised traffic separation corridor”, according to UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace.
He added “Russian vessels shadowed her passage”, and that the crew of the warship made those “in her wider vicinity” aware, while other defence sources note the Russians were undertaking gunnery practice and exercising aircraft in the area.
But, concerns over growing tensions with Russia have hit the headlines repeatedly in recent years, especially after alleged cyberattacks from Moscow and the furore over the Salisbury poisoning in 2018.
Worry over increasingly fraught relations even led the former head of the British Army, General Sir Nick Carter, to pass a stark warning about the future three years ago.
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HMS Destroyer, the Royal Navy warship which made headlines this week
The then-chief of the general staff said Russia’s actions presented the biggest state-based threat to Britain since the cold war — and even warned conflict could escalate sooner than expected.
He said Russia was presenting “the most complex and capable security challenge we have faced since the cold war”.
Speaking at the Royal United Services Institute, he said: “The risk we run in not defining this clearly and acting accordingly, is that rather like a chronic contagious disease it will creep up on us, and our ability to act will be markedly constrained — and we’ll be the losers of this competition.”
He also pointed out how Russia could undermine the US-led Nato alliance.
Sir Carter continued: “It will start with something we don’t expect.
“We should not take what we’ve seen so far as a template for the future.”
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He also warned: “Russia could initiate hostilities sooner than we expect, and a lot earlier than we would in similar circumstances.”
The former Army figurehead also said an attack could come in a range of forms, from bribery and cyberattacks to fake news and military intimidation.
Still, he concluded: “This is not a crisis, or series of crises, which we face. It is a strategic challenge, and it requires a strategic response.”
The Guardian’s then-defence correspondent Ewen McAskill also speculated: “Carter may be hyping up the threat from Russia in a bid to deter it from launching a major cyber-attack on the UK or any action against Nato in the Baltic states, where UK forces are deployed.
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Boris Johnson speaking to Putin back in January 2020 over Libya
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“He may also be aiming to try to persuade the Treasury to increase the Ministry of Defence budget at the end of a scheduled strategic defence review.”
Just two months before Gen Sir Carter’s powerful statement, Boris Johnson — then Foreign Secretary — warned Russia that Britain could and would match Russia in cyber warfare.
In response, his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov said: “Our relations are at a low. You prefer to talk about the reasons why publicly.”
Months after this encounter, Mr Johnson also pulled apart a “tit-for-tat” battle between Russia and the UK when public fear about the use of the deadly Novichok nerve agent in Salisbury was at an all-time high.
Kremlin has also said if the UK shows “political will”, Russian President Vladmir Putin would be willing to hold face-to-face talks with Mr Johnson
Claiming the attack was a response to the UK’s condemnation of Russia’s international actions, Mr Johnson said: “We knew there would be risks in opposing the Kremlin — resisting a bully is always risky, but we did it anyway because we knew it to be right.
“So I believe that what happened in Salisbury was, at least in part, the Kremlin’s way of hitting back at Britain for standing firm against its appalling behaviour.”
There have since been claims that Moscow meddled in UK elections, but a judge has recently rejected an attempt from MPs to compel the Prime Minister to investigate the matter.
The Kremlin has also said if the UK shows “political will”, Russian President Vladimir Putin would be willing to hold face-to-face talks with Mr Johnson, although it looks unlikely at the moment.