On June 23rd, the Black Sea was the stage of one of the tensest encounters since the end of Cold War. The British destroyer HMS Defender crossed into Russian territorial waters around the peninsula of Crimea, Russia responded by a Russian patrol ship and fighter jet firing warning shots at the vessel to change its course.
The British Defence Ministry denied any shots fired at the HMD Defender, which was again responded by the Russian Ministry of Defense. The latter published video recordings of the warning shots, and the British ambassador in Moscow was summoned to the foreign ministry.
Strikingly, just two days before the incident, the British vessel HMS Defender hosted a meeting of the Minister for Defence Procurement Jeremy Quin and First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Tony Radakin and the Deputy Minister of Defence of Ukraine, Oleksandr Myroniuk and industry representative David Lockwood from Babcock.
The sides signed a Memorandum of Implementation (MOI). According to the UK government’s press release, the Contractual work will now begin to implement the following projects:
- Missile sale and integration on new and in-service Ukrainian Navy patrol and airborne platforms, including a training and engineering support package.
- The development and joint production of eight fast missile warships.
- The creation of a new naval base on the Black Sea as the primary fleet base for Ukraine and a new base on the Sea of Azov.
- Babcock will participate in the Ukrainian project to deliver a modern frigate capability.
- A Government to Government sale of two refurbished Sandown class mine countermeasure vessels.
The MOI follows the UK’s fundamental position not to recognize that Crimea is a part of Russia. The British government states “The UK and NATO are committed to Black Sea regional security, stability and prosperity, and to Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, which is exemplified by HMS Defender’s visit to the port of Odesa as part of the UK’s Carrier Strike Group deployment.”
The UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told reporters “The Royal Navy ship was conducting innocent passage through Ukrainian territorial waters. We were doing so in accordance with international law and the Russian characterization is predictably inaccurate.”
UK Integrated Review: Russia as a “state threat”
The recent defense agreement and following provocation by the British navy follows the UK government’s assessment of Russia as a “state threat”, declared in the so-called Integrated Review, published in March 2021.
This report, whose full title is “Global Britain in a competitive age – The Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy” and which was developed in approximately 14 months under inclusion of all British governmental institutions, declares, “Russia remains the most acute threat”.
The Integrated Review declares to “support others in the Eastern European neighbourhood and beyond to build their resilience to state threats. This includes Ukraine.” The report also states the intention to keep all British armed forces “able to move seamlessly between ‘operating’ and ‘war fighting’”.
UK Ministry of Defence: we will arm up Ukraine
Just some days later, the British Defense Ministry published a report titles “Defense in a competitive age”, which was the concretization of the Integrated Review.
Herein, the British Defense Ministry states:
“5.14. Ukraine has suffered significant territorial loss as a result of Russian aggression. Together with NATO allies we will help to build Ukraine’s resilience to the continued aggressive tactics – conventional and threshold – used by its neighbor. Our capacity building mission, which includes both land and maritime training, will support the development of the Ukrainian Armed Forces and their interoperability with NATO. (…) As part of this we will continue to exercise our freedom to operate in the Black Sea.”
NATO exercise beginning within days
Meanwhile, NATO prepares for the annual exercise Sea Breeze to take place in the Black Sea from June 28th till July 10th. The exercise, cohosted by the Ukrainian navy, is expected to have a record participation this year.
Implementing long standing British policy, the HMS Defender might have caused just the first actual incident in a long row of tense days in the Black Sea.