President Vladimir Putin threatened NATO forces the day after a British destroyer was the target of Russian warning fire off the coast of Crimea in the Black Sea.
“If they go too far, you cannot rule out any option to protect Russia’s borders,” Putin said of the Western military alliance, according to Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.
Before, at the Tass agency, Vice-Chancellor Sergei Riabkov had shown himself even more assertive. ” What can we do ? We can use common sense. If that doesn’t work, we can’t just bomb the way [do navio], but also the target. “
After the British military attaché in Moscow, the London ambassador to Russia should be summoned to hear a reprimand.
On Wednesday morning (23) there was one of the most serious incidents between Russian and Western forces since the Cold War. The destroyer HMS Defender entered the coastal waters of Crimea, which London considers Ukrainian, 3 km away.
Russia annexed the peninsula in 2014 and, without recognition from the UN, thinks otherwise: for Moscow, the whole region is its territory. As the incorporation of Crimea, otherwise a historic region of Russia, is a done deal, the invasion was viewed by the Kremlin as a provocation.
Indeed, a Russian Coast Guard boat fired warning shots at the ship, while informing by radio that it would do so if it did not change course.
Even more aggressively, the Sukhoi Su-24 fighter-bombers surrounded the Defender and, according to Russia, four bombs were dropped in front of its route – hence the Riabkov reference.
The UK MoD has denied being the target of the gunfire and bombs, but a dramatic video produced aboard the Defender by a BBC crew dismantled at least part of its version. It displays warnings in English on the destroyer’s radio: “If you don’t change course, I’ll shoot.”
Shortly after, you can hear the gunshots, which the reporter said were “well out of range”. Of course, these were warning shots. In the footage, it has up to 20 planes passing by the ship, and two Su-24s are seen in clear skies. It is not possible to know if they dropped bombs in front or not.
The Russian Defense Ministry released a video taken from inside one of the planes, but without too much detail.
This Thursday (24), London spoke again about the episode and argued that Defender’s route, from Odessa (Ukraine) to Georgia, was regular and only passed through international waters.
The incident brought the already strained relations between Russia and NATO to a new level of aggression. Last week, the alliance reaffirmed at a summit that it sees Moscow as its main threat, including the partnership between Putin and Xi Jinping’s China, as a risk to be watched.
The Black Sea, alongside the Baltic, is one of the main difficult stages in this relationship. Since Crimea was annexed and the pro-Russian separatist war broke out in eastern Ukraine following the overthrow of a Putin ally in Kiev, military activity in the region has exploded.
Russia militarized the peninsula, which was already home to the Moscow Black Sea Fleet leased in Sevastopol. Advanced anti-aircraft systems have been installed, as well as Iskander-M ballistic missile batteries, which can reach a large part of Ukrainian territory.
NATO, meanwhile, began conducting joint exercises with Ukraine, in addition to strengthening ties with Georgia, another country in which Russia intervened on behalf of ethnic Russians with a war in 2008. .
In both Georgian and Ukrainian cases, the ultimate goal was to prevent the absorption of countries by NATO and other Western structures like the European Union.
Geopolitically, this rapprochement, which occurred when the former Soviet Baltic republics joined the military alliance, in 2004 is unacceptable to the Kremlin.
This was reinforced in April, when Putin concentrated his troops on the Ukrainian border and closed areas of the Black Sea. He wanted to pressure Kiev not to act against the separatists, as the military movements have indicated, and in the meantime he has seen his program of implementing the peace accords come back to the table in Europe.
The Black Sea incident also suggests that the summit between Putin and new US President Joe Biden, held last week in Geneva, may have been even less productive than expected – which was no longer a big problem.
In this sense, the British presence is symptomatic. If the incident had occurred with an American ship, the tensions would be even higher, and in addition, London is increasing its bankroll with the majority of NATO partners.
Defender is part of the attack group of the Royal Navy’s new aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth, on its first operational trip.
Emphasizing cooperation with Washington, some of the F-35B fighters it carries are American and the planes are participating in attacks against Syria from the Mediterranean. The defender left the group and went to provoke the Russians ten days ago, then must join the main body.
With that, the Queen Elizabeth, considered too expensive to be exploited by analysts, gets her message across. In the future, it will sail to the Indo-Pacific, which will provoke another Western adversary, China.
In the specific case of Russia, there is the aggravating factor that London and Moscow have had strained relations since a former Russian spy and his daughter were poisoned on English soil. The local government has accused Putin of the action, which the Kremlin denies.
Even so, trade between countries is at one of the best times in recent history, as the Russian president himself said at the St. Petersburg Economic Forum a few weeks ago.