RUSSIA has boasted it dropped bombs and fired warning shots towards a British warship – but UK defence officials deny the incident ever happened.
Moscow claimed a Russian patrol ship and warplane were scrambled after Royal Navy destroyer HMS Defender crossed into its territorial waters near Crimea in the Black Sea.
The Ministry of Defence however outright denies the claims – and stated the 8,500 ton warship was simply conducting an “innocent passage” through Ukrainian waters.
It is latest clash between the West and Russia in the Black Sea, which has been the staging ground for numerous confrontations between warships and warplanes.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said: “This morning, HMS Defender carried out a routine transit from Odesa towards Georgia across the Black Sea.
“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.”
However, Russian state media reports a much more dramatic version of events in the latest war of words between London and Moscow.
Putin’s defence ministry claims the Type-45 crossed Russia’s maritime border near Cape Fiolent at 11.52am local time and was warned to stand down.
The 500ft destroyer is alleged to have kept its course and a Russian border patrol vessel opened fire twice – once at 12.06pm and again at 12.08pm.
And then it’s claimed an SU-24 fighter jump dropped four warning bombs in the direction of the vessel.
It was then stated at 12.23pm the British ship – which is armed with an arsenal of anti-ship and anti-air missiles – left Russian waters.
Moscow has summoned British officials to answer for the confrontation which comes amid heightened tensions between Russia and the West.
However, the MoD hit back at the Russian version of events and said: “No warning shots have been fired at HMS Defender.”
It added: “The Royal Navy ship is conducting innocent passage through Ukrainian territorial waters in accordance with international law.”
Defence sources said they believed the Russians were undertaking a gunnery exercise in the vicinity of the Type 45 destroyer – but there was no mention of dropping bombs.
The Royal Navy warship was said to be simply taking the most direct route between Ukraine and Georgia having yesterday visited Odessa.
The latest dramatic incident comes as Ukraine is reportedly seeking to enter NATO in what would be a major blow to Russian president Vladimir Putin.
Ukraine and Russia have been at odds ever since Moscow illegally annexed Crimea from Kiev in a move that received international condemnation.
It has since allegedly been supporting rebel groups fighting in eastern Ukraine and has been accused of plotting further land grabs.
HMS Defender sailed into the region after operating as part of the HMS Queen Elizabeth carrier strike group in the Med.
The £1billion warship was sailing with Dutch frigate HNLMS Evertsen.
Air traffic control monitor FlightRadar tracked a USAF “Rivet Joint” RC-135 spy plane overhead around the time of the alleged confrontation.
And it comes after Russia boasted it had “expelled” another British warship – HMS Dragon – from the region back in October.
Moscow claimed the destroyer had ignored warnings not to enter Russian territorial waters – and claimed she was chased of by fighter planes and warships.
At the time, Russia’s boasts were also rubbished as untrue by the MoD in another war of words between the two sides.
Russia had said in recent days that it was closely monitoring HMS Defender.
An earlier image taken from Royal Navy destroyer HMS Defender showed Russian frigate Admiral Essen “shadowing” USS Laboon.
Russia’s national defence control centre said: “Forces and systems of the [Russian] Black Sea Fleet have started monitoring the movements of the Royal Navy HMS Defender and the Dutch Navy’s Evertsen frigate.”
The fleet’s former commander Admiral Vladimir Komoyedov said: ”Those ships will definitely not be welcome here.
“No-one is going to greet them as guests of honour, while their actions will definitely be monitored.
“They will be put under direct surveillance, technically, from the air and from outer space.”
The Russian fleet was enhancing “its combat preparedness, especially the readiness of air defence crews and particular standby forces” with the presence of the NATO ships, he said.
They were being subjected to “close monitoring”.
“Their visits to the Black Sea have become too frequent,” said Komoyedov.
“Their intensified presence has gone too far.
“They are complying with the Montreux Convention, but the activity of ships from non-Black Sea countries has never been so intensive before, even in the Soviet period.”
What is happening between Russia and Ukraine?
RUSSIA and the Ukraine have remained technically at war since 2014.
The conflict was triggered by the Ukrainian Revolution – when an uprising overthrew the pro-Russian government of Viktor Yanukovych.
Vladimir Putin’s forces annexed the region of Crimea from Ukraine in a move which was widely condemned by the West.
The conflict then spiralled when pro-Russian groups in Eastern Ukraine then took up arms against the state.
Russia gave their backing the separatist forces which formed breakaway republics in Donetsk and Luhansk.
Putin’s forces then launched a military incursion into these regions as they gave their support to the rebels.
Almost seven years have now passed and the War in Donbas remains at a stalemate.
Russia is sent as wanting to prevent Ukraine from cosying up to the West – and it has been accused of attempting to recapture territory lost at the fall of the Soviet Union.
Ukraine is now making overtures to join NATO, a move which would secure its own secure and also inflame tensions.
Some 100,000 troops were deployed by Russia to the border with Ukrainian earlier this year amid fears the conflict could turn to all out war between the two.
Tensions have since deescalated – but region remains a tinderbox where one wrong move could potentially spark a raging conflict that may draw in the West.
Ukraine will hope NATO membership means they can call on the full backing of the US and UK to see off Putin’s bully-boy tactics.
Putin massed tens of thousands of troops on the border with Ukraine earlier this year, sparking fears of an invasion.
The issue was discussed by Putin and US President Joe Biden at their historic summit last week, but little progress is believed to have been made.
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky estimates that more than 90,000 Russian troops remain along their borders and said tensions could still escalate.
Kiev has been battling pro-Russia separatists in the eastern Donetsk and Lugansk regions since 2014, following Moscow’s annexation of the Crimea.
The war has claimed more than 13,000 lives.
Speaking after his summit with Putin in Geneva, US President Biden described talks as “positive” – but divisions remain between the West and Russia.
“The bottom line is I told President Putin that we need to have some basic rules of the road that we can all abide by,” he said.
The US would maintain an “unwavering commitment to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine” he added, and said they would continue to seek a diplomatic answer based on the Minsk agreement peace deal.
In his own news conference, Putin defended his country’s actions in Ukraine and insisted they are simply following the Minsk deal – as Russia as always denied any aggressive intent towards its western neighbour.