Russia hits out at Boris – warns Royal Navy ‘will get hurt’ if returning to Crimea

George Eustice discusses HMS Defender route

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Mikhail Popov, who was appointed by Russian President Vladimir Putin to the post of deputy secretary to the Security Council in March 2020, told a state-run newspaper in Moscow that “similar actions will be thwarted with the harshest methods”. Speaking to the Rossiiyskaya Gazeta, Popov said: “We suggest our opponents think hard about whether it’s worth organising such provocations given the capabilities of Russia’s armed forces”.

“It’s not the members of the British Government who will be in the ships and vessels used for provocations ends”, he added.

“It’s in that context”, Popov claimed, “that I want to ask a question of the same Boris Johnson and Dominic Raab – what will they say to the families of the British sailors who will get hurt in the same of such ‘great’ ideas?”.

Popov’s warnings follow a similar threat made by Russia’s deputy foreign minister Sergey Ryabkov.

After the incident involving HMS Defender in June, Ryabkov said: “What can we do? We can appeal to common sense, demand respect for international law.

“If this does not help, we can bomb not only in the direction but also on target, if our colleagues do not understand.

“I warn everyone violating the state borders of the Russian Federation under the slogan of free navigation, from such provocative steps, because the security of our country comes first.”

London has maintained that, while the Type 45 destroyer sailed within the 12-mile limit off of Crimea near Cape Fiolent, it did so under the internationally recognised freedom of navigation rules in Ukraine’s territorial waters.

But the status of who owns the waters is hotly contested between Moscow and Kiev.

After Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, the Kremlin has argued the peninsula belongs to Moscow.

However, most countries, including the United Kingdom, continue to recognise Crimea’s Black Sea coastline as Ukrainian.

Despite stern warnings, the UK’s Environment Secretary, George Eustice, said the Royal Navy would “of course” continue to sail around the Crimea and reiterated that these waters are Ukrainian as Britain “never accepted the annexation of Crimea”.

Speaking about last month’s incident, the Cabinet minister highlighted: “Under international law you can take the closest, fastest route from one point to another. HMS Defender was passing through Ukrainian waters, I think on the way to Georgia, and that was the logical route for it to take.”

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Eustice’s Conservative colleague, Tobias Ellwood, has however admitted it is a “dangerous game” for the Royal Navy to sail through the disputed waters.

The ex-Defence Secretary, formerly a Lieutenant Colonel in the British Army and now Chair of the Commons’ Defence Select Committee, told the BBC: “There’s huge scope for an accident to occur, misinterpretation, leading to an actual kinetic engagement and it could be a bit of time before somebody grabs that red phone and calms things down”.

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