A Russian security official has claimed that last October, Moscow used its navy and air force to expel a British warship, HMS Dragon, from what he described as Russian territorial waters near Russian-annexed Crimea.
Russia annexed the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, drawing sanctions and condemnation from the West. Kyiv wants the territory back.
Vladimir Kulishov, first deputy head of the FSB security service, said on Thursday that Russia had told the vessel not to enter its waters, but that it had crossed what he said was the border on October 13 near southern Crimea.
He said HMS Dragon, which is described by the United Kingdom’s navy as an air defence destroyer, had invoked the right of “innocent passage”.
That is a concept which allows ships to transit the territorial waters of foreign coastal states in a manner not prejudicial to their peace, good order or security.
Kulishov told Russia’s RIA news agency that Moscow had demanded the vessel immediately leave its waters, to which the warship’s captain replied there was poor signal reception.
“The warship was driven out into neutral waters by the joint action of the Russian navy and air force,” Kulishov was quoted as saying.
The incident comes as Russia’s relations with the UK and its Western allies, including the United States – languish at post-Cold War lows amid tensions over issues including Ukraine, the Arctic, Russia’s treatment of the jailed opposition figure, Alexey Navalny, and accusations of cyber malfeasance.
There was no immediate comment on Kulishov’s claims from the UK’s defence ministry.
On Tuesday, the US and Russia announced President Joe Biden and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin will hold a long-anticipated summit in Geneva, Switzerland, next month.
The June 16 meeting will be the first between the two leaders since Biden assumed office in January.
Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov warned against anticipating a “reset” after the summit in Geneva, emphasising that differences between Moscow and Washington run too deep.
The White House has also been cool on expectations for the meeting, making it clear it is not likely to yield any major breakthroughs.