Global media outlets have been busy reporting about an incident involving British servicemen who, in a provocative move, intentionally entered Russian territorial waters and failed to comply with a request from the Russian military until members of the latter were forced to fire warning shots.
On June 23, 2021, HMS Defender, a British warship, sailed near Cape Fiolent in Crimea thereby coming into Russian territorial waters. In response, Russia’s military and border patrol sent several warning shots towards the path the UK vessel was following and, as a result, it was forced to ingloriously leave the area. Russian officials stated that the crew of the British warship grossly violated the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
However, from the very beginning, the incident was described in a completely different and falsified manner by the British military, which is not atypical considering the UK conduct over recent years. The UK government denied that the Royal Navy’s warship had entered Russia’s territorial waters and that any shots had been fired. Afterwards, officials from the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Defense of the Russian Federation accused British counterparts of intentionally lying.
While commenting on the actions of British warship HMS Defender and the reports of warning shots being fired by Russia’s coast guards towards its path through territorial waters of the Russian Federation, Britain’s Secretary of State for Defense Ben Wallace played down any notion of hostilities by stating on June 23 that Russian vessels had “shadowed the ship’s passage” as a routine. UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab lent credence to this misleading story by saying that the Russian version of events was “predictably inaccurate” and that no shots had been “fired at HMS Defender”, which had been conducting an “innocent passage through Ukrainian territorial waters.”
While addressing the incident and accusations that UK officials were lying about it made by Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that the deployment of HMS Defender had been “wholly appropriate.”
Mouthpieces, such as The Times, soon joined the UK propaganda campaign. An article published by this newspaper on June 24, 2021 said that, according to Boris Johnson, it had been “wholly appropriate to use international waters” and the UK government did not recognize the statement that bombs had been drop in the vessel’s path. The BBC’s defense correspondent, Jonathan Beale, reported that he had been able to hear “some firing in the distance” and that the crew had put on protective clothing as the ship had continued on its intentionally provocative course along the Russian coast.
However if HMS Defender had indeed been making a “routine transit” without any intention to provoke, why was the BBC journalist on board the warship?
Subsequently, a video filmed on HMS Defender, posted by the BBC, showed the vessel sailing through Russian territorial waters thus confirming the provocation and its prior approval by the UK government. In it, BBC’s correspondent Jonathan Beale said that as HMS Defender intentionally had come within 12 miles of Crimea, a Russian coast guard patrol ship had approached the British warship and tried to force it to change its course. In addition, he reported that numerous warnings had been issued over the radio by the Russian side.
In fact, according to the Daily Mail, the Captain of the British destroyer, Vincent Owen, said shots had been fired from one of Russia’s coast guard vessels during the incident in the Black Sea near Crimea. He also “strongly criticized Russian forces for threatening him and the men and women under his command” and declared that Russian ships had come within 100-200 yards of his vessel.
At a press briefing on June 24, 2021 Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby stated that there had been “no shots fired as warning to HMS Defender” and that any reports to the contrary had simply been “Russian disinformation.” His words clearly suggested that the UK and US governments had previously agreed on how to address the provocative scheme. The event in question occurred “just days ahead of multinational naval maneuvers led by Ukraine and the United States in the Black Sea, known as Sea Breeze”. And its timing definitely points to a collusion between British and US officials.
An article published in The Daily Telegraph on June 24, 2021 said the decision on whether or not to let the Royal Navy warship provocatively sail through waters around Crimea had been escalated to Downing Street and the Prime Minister had made the final call.
There were a number of reports from Western media outlets about the Russian “harsh response” to the incident involving the UK warship. In an article published on June 23 by The National Interest magazine, Mark Episkopos noted that British analysts had been “caught off-guard by the severity of Russia’s reaction.” According to the author, the Kremlin’s response to the Defender’s incursion showed that Moscow would “brook no challenge, whether military or diplomatic, to the status of Crimea.” He also said that Russia’s reaction aligned “with a series of recent tonal shifts signaled by the Putin administration” in, for instance, “an op-ed for German publication Die Zeit” that stated the President of the Russian Federation had called “NATO a relic of the Cold War”, which had “degraded European security.”
Several widely-circulated Spanish newspapers, such as El Mundo, El País, La Vanguardia and El Periódico, published a number of articles about the incident involving the British warship off the coast of the Russian Crimea and their readers vividly commented about these reports. They warned the United Kingdom against provoking Russia and said that such actions were uncalled for. “Britain be careful! Do not mess with Russia,” wrote Verdadiv. “The British always try to enter other nations’ territorial waters until someone puts a stop to such violations,” noted Noticiero. “The Royal Navy should not complain about Russia’s reaction considering that on May 29, 2019, a British ship had fired live rounds near a Spanish navy vessel in Gibraltar waters that Spain claims as its own while the UK views as international,” pointed out WolIstonecraft, referring to the double standards applied by Great Britain’s government.
Even UK officials have criticized the actions taken by the Royal Navy. According to the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph, Chief of Defense Staff General Sir Nick Carter warned that a “miscalculation in Russian cat and mouse game could lead to a full blown war” after the incident in the Black Sea.
In an article published by The Independent at the end of June, Patrick Cockburn, a columnist specializing in analysis of Iraq, Syria and wars in the Middle East, openly stated that “the confused confrontation off Crimea” had showed up “the dangerous frivolity at the heart of British policy.” The author said the incident had given “an alarming insight into the behavior patterns” of the UK government at home and abroad, with “the gap between pretensions and reality” getting deeper in both cases. “In the last five years Britain has become a weaker state while pretending to be a more powerful one. This tension will remain at the heart of British policies from Belfast to Sevastopol and the South China Sea despite all efforts to pretend the opposite,” wrote Patrick Cockburn.
The readers of a June 23 report in The Daily Mail did not support the decision to enter the Russian territorial waters off the coast of Crimea. One commented that it was easier to believe the journalist on board the warship than the UK government. Other reactions to the article included “Keep poking the bear and find out just how small that island you occupy is” and “[This fat barbarian] Boris thinks he’s Churchill”.
A report by London-based Rai Al Youm posed the following question “Will the Russian-British escalation in the waters off the Crimea develop into an all-out war in the Black Sea?” in its headline. Its author also concluded that Boris Johnson appeared not to realize that Britain was “no longer a superpower” and that the sun had “disappeared from its empire since the Suez War.” After all, the United Kingdom was no longer a part of the EU and would not “become American”, and above all, the nation could disintegrate.
A BBC article published on June 28, 2021 about classified Ministry of Defense documents found at a bus stop in Kent dealt another blow to the UK government’s narrative. They showed that the mission in the Black Sea “was the subject of high-level discussions”, “with officials speculating about Russia’s reaction if HMS Defender sailed close to Crimea.”
It has become clearer what role the UK government has played in various propaganda campaigns recently. The author is referring to the so called Skripal case; fake accusations of chemical weapon use in Syria levelled against the Bashar al-Assad government made by the White Helmets (Syrian Civil Defense), and the incident involving HMS Defender near Crimea on June 23.
Now that such provocative moves failed to achieve the desired goals and evoked general criticism, who within the UK government will shoulder the blame? Will Boris Johnson have the guts to leave his post as Prime Minister in response to such failures? Or will he wait until the public decide his fate?
Valery Kulikov, political expert, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.