UK denies claim Russia fired ‘warning shots’ at British warship

LONDON — The U.K. denied claims by Russia that one of its warships fired warning shots at a British destroyer in the Black Sea.

The Russian defense ministry claimed on Wednesday that it fired shots after the British missile destroyer HMS Defender ignored a “preliminary warning” against intrusion into Russia’s territorial waters. It said that a Russian Su-24 bomber also dropped bombs ahead of the British ship to persuade it to change course.

But that account was strongly disputed by the U.K. government. “No warning shots have been fired at HMS Defender. The Royal Navy ship is conducting innocent passage through Ukrainian territorial waters in accordance with international law,” the ministry of defence said in a statement.

The ministry added: “We believe the Russians were undertaking a gunnery exercise in the Black Sea and provided the maritime community with prior-warning of their activity. No shots were directed at HMS Defender and we do not recognise the claim that bombs were dropped in her path.”

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace meanwhile said HMS Defender had been carrying out “a routine transit from Odessa towards Georgia across the Black Sea. As is normal for this route, she entered an internationally recognised traffic separation corridor.”

He added: “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.”

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman meanwhile told journalists the ship had not entered Russian waters.

The Royal Navy ship traveled to the region as the U.K. signed a deal with Ukraine to supply it with missiles and other armaments, including the creation of a new naval base on the Black Sea to serve as Ukraine’s primary fleet base, and a new base on the Sea of Azov.

Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014, a move that was not recognized by most countries in the world. Russia has frequently chafed at NATO warship visits to the Black Sea, casting them as destabilizing, although NATO members Turkey, Romania and Bulgaria all are on the Black Sea.

This article was updated to correct the list of NATO members on the Black Sea.

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