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Defence Secretary attacks Russian ‘disinformation’ after claims of warning shots fired at British destroyer

·2-min read

The defence secretary has attacked Russian “disinformation” in claiming warning shots were fired at a British warship off Crimea and vowed to “uphold international law”.

Ben Wallace said Moscow’s false claims about the incident were nothing new, telling MPs: “We are not surprised by it, we plan for it.”

“Disinformation, misinformation is something that we have seen regularly,” he said, adding: “We will not shy away from upholding international law and our rights on the sea.”

Tobias Ellwood, the chair of the Commons defence committee, said the families of service people would be “reassured”, suggesting: “This is actually more of a war of words.”

Mr Wallace said the UK ambassador in Moscow had not been summoned and insisted, on UK activities in the region: “We take all steps to make sure we are not escalatory or indeed provocative.”

Moscow had made similar untrue claims of having “chased out” another Navy ship, HMS Dragon, a few months ago.

The comments came after Russia’s defence ministry claimed a patrol boat had fired shots at HMS Defender and that a Su-24M warplane dropped four high explosive bombs in its path in the Black Sea.

“The destroyer was warned in advance that weapons would be fired in case of a violation of the Russian state border. It disregarded the warning,” claimed a statement reported by the Interfax news agency.

“As a result of joint actions of the Black Sea Fleet and the Border Service of the Russian Federal Security Service, HMS Defender left the territorial sea of the Russian Federation.”

The latest flare-up comes amid months of tensions between Moscow and the West following a build-up earlier this year of Russian forces on the border with Ukraine.

The Kremlin – which annexed Crimea illegally in 2014 – has been angered by the movement of Nato warships in the Black Sea, which is seen as offering support to Ukraine.

But, in an earlier statement posted, the Ministry of Defence insisted: “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.”

Mr Wallace said that HMS Defender had been “shadowed” by Russian ships and had been “made aware” of training exercises in the area.

“This morning, HMS Defender carried out a routine transit from Odessa towards Georgia across the Black Sea,” he said.

“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.”

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