The Russian Defense Ministry announced Wednesday that one of its warplanes had dropped four bombs into the path of a British destroyer, which was also targeted with warning shots from a Russia patrol ship.
Incidents involving Western aircraft and ships are not uncommon at Russia's borders, especially during heightened tensions with Washington, Brussels and London, but rarely result in open fire.
But the British Defense Ministry soon denied that any warning shots had been fired at the HMS Defender, adding that "The Royal Navy ship is conducting innocent passage through Ukrainian territorial waters in accordance with worldwide law". "The Royal Navy ship was conducting innocent passage through Ukrainian territorial waters in accordance with global law".
The Russian Defense Ministry said it has summoned the United Kingdom military attache in Moscow to protest the British destroyer's maneuver.
The MOD insisting HMS Defender was in Ukranian water may be seen as a tacit denial they ever entered Russian waters, as Moscow claimed.
"No warning shots have been fired at HMS Defender". "The Royal Navy ship is conducting innocent passage through Ukrainian territorial waters in accordance with global law".
The Defence Ministry has concentrated special attention to ensuring the security of Crimea, with pro-Western authorities in Kiev and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation nations refusing to recognise Russian jurisdiction over the peninsula, notwithstanding a popular referendum which saw the overwhelming majority of the territory's residents vote to break off from Ukraine and rejoin Russia in early 2014 in the aftermath of the Maidan coup. Russian Federation has frequently chafed at North Atlantic Treaty Organisation warships visits near Crimea, casting them as destabilizing. In April, it declared a broader sea area off Crimea closed to foreign naval ships.
"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", the UK Ministry of Defence said.
UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace described the British ship's route as a "routine transit" from Odessa towards Georgia across the Black Sea.
"As is routine, Russian vessels shadowed her passage and she was made aware of training exercises in her wider vicinity".
"We saw the reports this morning", said Max Blain, a spokesman for Prime Minister Boris Johnson. The Russian military closely monitors any and all movement by North Atlantic Treaty Organisation warships in the Black Sea, and has the technical means to watch all alliance activity in the body of water.
The Russian military began tracking the HMS Defender and the Royal Netherlands Navy's HNLMS Evertsen frigate on 14 June after the pair of North Atlantic Treaty Organisation warships entered the Black Sea.
HMS Defender is a Type 45 destroyer that is part of the UK's Carrier Strike Group.
"Moscow likewise reacted politically (in its own way), first spoofing Global Positioning System signals to try and present Defender and a Dutch frigate as aggressively heading straight for the Russian Black Sea Fleet base at Sevastopol. and now claiming - as they have in the past - to have "driven" the Royal Navy away by aggressive operations", he added.
North Atlantic Treaty Organisation members Turkey, Romania and Bulgaria all are on the Black Sea.
The US periodically sends warships to the region in a show of support for Ukraine, often drawing protests from Russian Federation.
Speaking on Wednesday just before the incident, General Valery Gerasimov, the chief of the general staff of the Russian armed forces, sharply criticised the deployments of North Atlantic Treaty Organisation warships near Russian waters.