Posted on Jun 23, 2021
Russian warplanes and armed coastguard vessels reportedly targeted a Royal Navy warship before opening fire yesterday.
A Daily Mail reporter was on board HMS Defender as repeated bursts of cannon fire rang out in a dramatic incident that opened up a fresh diplomatic crisis.
The Russian jets and ships menaced the UK destroyer after it entered disputed territorial waters off Crimea, which Moscow illegally annexed from Ukraine in 2014.
After the coastguard vessel opened fire, the British sailors frantically pulled on flame retardant suits and body armour amid fears that their warship could be hit.
Aircraft could be heard overhead as BBC defence correspondent Jonathan Beale filed a report from the deck of HMS Defender in the Black Sea as it sailed to Georgia. He described hostile warnings over the radio as the warship's crew prepared for a possible confrontation.
The hour-long incident represented the most alarming escalation of UK tensions with the Kremlin since the Salisbury poisonings of 2018.
The angry thud of cannon fire rings out on the port side of HMS Defender as I crouch beside the bridge in my hastily adorned flame retardant gloves and balaclava. We are being pursued furiously by a pair of Russian coastguard vessels while, every couple of minutes, Russian jets pass thunderously overhead. The deafening roar of supersonic aircraft filling my ears is an unsettling, yet enthralling, experience. Then, as part of Defender's response, her deadly arsenal of Sea Viper missiles are brought to readiness. After a second burst of enemy cannon fire I overhear an update intended for her captain that we have 'two hard-kill missiles effective'. For a second I wonder just what might happen next. Wars have started over less.
Russia responded by summoning the British defence attache in Moscow. Its embassy in London accused the Royal Navy of an act of provocation and of violating its border.
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II sent a message of 'best wishes and a safe journey' to Defender's 240-strong crew.
And Tom Tugendhat, Tory chairman of the Commons foreign affairs committee, accused Moscow of 'pathetic grandstanding'.
Image: By Royal Navy - Defence Images, OGL v1.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/...
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