The Russian state-controlled media outlet, RT claimed Boris Johnson’s decision to send a warship to contested Crimea, demonstrates that “lonely Brexit Britain” is lost at sea. RT reported Russia and the UK had clashed after London dispatched the destroyer HMS Defender to the disputed waters off Crimea.
Moscow’s defense ministry said a patrol ship fired warning shots and a jet dropped bombs in the path of HMS Defender as it sailed 12 miles (19km) off Crimea’s coast. The British government rejected Russia’s account, denying any warning shots were fired.
These waters are considered to be sovereign territory by Moscow. Russia annexed the Ukrainian Crimean Peninsula in 2014. Russia maintains that the annexation of Crimea was legal, while Ukraine and the West do not. Therefore, Russia and the West have different opinions over who the land and waters belong to.
The question remains, was this a needless provocation by the Royal Navy or a legitimate exercise of passage at sea?
Amid the current Water Wars and Grey Zone challenges with Russia and China around the globe, the UK has recently adopted a new “forward-leaning” foreign and defense policy as outlined in the government’s recent Integrated Review.
According to the BBC, the HMS Defender was sailing from Odessa in southern Ukraine to Georgia. To get there, the destroyer passed south of the Crimean Peninsula, in waters the UK believe belong to the Ukraine. The waters are commonly used as an internationally recognized transit route. The British warship was conducting a freedom-of-navigation exercise when it was harassed by Russian forces.
Britain, strongly supported by Ukraine, insists that HMS Defender was taking the shortest, most direct route across the Black Sea, from Odessa, in Ukraine, to Georgia. That route passes just a few miles from the shores of the Crimean Peninsula.
Today, there is almost no trust between Britain and Russia. The treacherous relationship is due to numerous poisonings of former and defected spies and their families, the Crimea annexation and alleged cyber-attacks of Western elections and infrastructure. In a recent governmental report, Britain believes Russia to be the greatest military threat facing the country.
Russia considers the whole of Ukraine, the Black Sea, and the Crimean Peninsula as its own back yard. On the southern tip of the peninsula is Sevastopol, the largest city in Crimea. A little more than 20 miles from Wednesday’s incident, is the Sevastopol port, home to a major Russian naval base and its Black Sea fleet. With significant population of ethnic Russians, Moscow has portrayed the annexation of Crimea as returning the peninsula to its rightful owner.
The response was simple for Russia. The answer to a perceived British incursion was a power play and demonstration of strength. This should not be a particularly surprising offensive maneuver to the West. When provoked, Russia will push back. The Black Sea incident shows Russia’s determination to illegally claim the waters surrounding the Crimean Peninsula.
Overnight, other pro-Russian news is reporting classified UK Ministry of Defense (MoD) documents supposedly left accidentally at a bus stop in Kent confirming that the incursion by HMS Defender into Russian territorial waters of Crimea were a calculated provocation, planned at the highest levels of the government and the armed forces.
Unofficial American Position
The probable truth on the Crimean Coast incident is that the HMS Defender was pushing back on Moscow’s claim to international waters. Saturday, Ben Hodges, former commander of U.S. Army Europe and current Pershing Chair in Strategic Studies at the Center for European Policy Analysis, stated, “This was a really important step in communicating to the Kremlin that their claims to Crimea are in fact illegal,” and that “nobody in the world recognizes those claims, and therefore, these waters are Ukrainian waters, exactly as the Royal Navy said yesterday.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, after meeting with President Biden in Cornwall earlier in June, maybe showing that Britain with a post-Brexit British determination, like America, “is back”; a clear reference to President Biden’s comments.
Even though the HMS Defender was operating alone off the Coast of Crimea, the destroyer is part of a UK Carrier Strike Group 2021. The strike group is spearheaded by the Royal Navy’s newest aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth, which will be heading to the South China Sea. Together with other nations, it will be challenging China’s claims to a vast contested area with several sea bordering countries.