The British naval vessel that Moscow said illegally entered Russian waters in the Black Sea near Crimea earlier this month did so to observe in detail the response of Russian forces. President Vladimir Putin said so on Wednesday.
“This was, of course, a provocation,” Putin said in his annual televised question-and-answer session after the British ambassador in Moscow had previously been questioned. “Even if we had sunk the British destroyer near Crimea, it is unlikely that the world would have been on the brink of World War III,” he added.
The warship HMS Defender sailed in a maritime zone that most countries consider belonging to Ukraine, but the Russians have claimed that sea area since the annexation of Crimea in 2014. According to the recent discovery of confidential military personnel information at a bus stop in Kent, the British knew that the route was sensitive. It states, among other things, that there was high-level speculation about how the Russians would react if the ship came close to Crimea.
According to the British, the Russians said they had fired warning shots, but it was target practice. Incidentally, according to the Ministry of Defense in The Hague, a Dutch frigate was also intimidated.
According to the documents found, the British considered multiple scenarios, ranging from a “safe and professional” Russian response to a response that was “neither safe nor professional”. Considerations to let the ship avoid disputed waters were brushed aside because London assumed Moscow might call it cowardly.
Putin went further into Ukraine. For example, he said he did not see the point of meeting President Volodimir Zelensky because he believes politicians run the country in the US and European countries. “Important decisions are made in Washington, and Berlin and Paris to some extent.”
Zelensky invited Putin to a meeting in April in eastern Ukraine, where more than 100,000 Russian soldiers were clustered at the border. Putin held back but said at the time that Zelensky is always welcome in Moscow. On Wednesday, he called the Ukrainian leadership “unfriendly” and pointed to the close ties between the two neighbouring countries. “We are one,” he said.