British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has said that the UK will continue to send its sailors through disputed waters off the coast of Crimea after an incursion by HMS ‘Defender’ last month provoked a furious reaction from Russia.
Speaking to the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee on Tuesday, Raab, who serves as deputy prime minister in all but name, defended the decision to chart course for the region. Deploying the Type 45 destroyer, he said, was a show of “confidence” rather than a bid for “confrontation.”
The UK refuses to recognize Russian sovereignty over Crimea, and considers the sea surrounding it to belong to Kiev. Raab added that Moscow should get used to this kind of behavior, and that Chinese officials should watch out for a similar operation in their region sometime soon.
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“We have got every right to conduct innocent passage through Ukrainian territorial waters, in accordance with international law. That’s what we will continue to do,” he said. “It’s absolutely right we exercise and defend the rights, and we do so from the Ukrainian territorial sea to the South China Sea.”
However, it is unlikely that Russian officials see the issue in the same light. Speaking to Moscow’s International Affairs news outlet on Tuesday, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said that the tense Black Sea is not a place where “games are allowed.”
“The essence of the problem is the desire of Britain and, of course, the United States, to indulge Kiev,” he said. “The provocateurs must be treated very directly and objectively,” Ryabkov continued. “It must be explained to them why, next time, they’d be better off leaving their provocations aside and not coming here, because they will get a punch in the nose.”
Responding to Raab’s comments, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that “such statements cause concern.” According to him, “every time the state border of Russia is violated, measures will be taken that need to be taken.”
Russian sailors and fighter jets intercepted HMS ‘Defender’ when it crossed the border into what Russia considers its sovereign waters on June 21. Planes staged flybys over the ship, while the Russian Navy says it fired warning shots in the direction of the warship in order to force it to change course. However, London defense officials insist no such shots were fired, despite video footage being published that appears to confirm Moscow’s version of events. Raab has branded this “disinformation.”
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