Russian President Vladimir Putin has accused the United States and Britain of “provocation’’ in the Black Sea.
Last week, the Russian Black Sea Fleet stationed in Sevastopol said it had forced the British warship HMS Defender, which had sailed close to Crimea, to change course by firing warning shots and dropping bombs.
Putin said on Wednesday that a US reconnaissance aircraft was also present during the incident, which was observing the Russian reaction to the actions of the HMS Defender.
Speaking on state television, Putin defended the Russian forces’ move.
“Even if we had sunk that ship, it will still be difficult to imagine that this will have put the world on the brink of World War III,’’ Putin said.
The close encounter came in the week before an international military exercise began in the north-west of the Black Sea involving soldiers and sailors from Ukraine, the U.S. and about 30 other countries.
Putin had called on participants to cancel the two-week exercise, dubbed Sea Breeze.
In another encounter last week, the Netherlands accused Russia of flying “mock attacks” against one of its warships in the Black Sea last week.
The Dutch Defence Ministry on Tuesday tweeted that Russian jets caused “a dangerous situation in the Black Sea near HNLMS Evertsen last Thursday’’.
“The aircraft repeatedly flew dangerously low over and close to the ship and carried out mock attacks’’, the ministry said, adding that the electronic equipment of the frigate had also been interfered with.
The Russian Defence Ministry said that SU-30 and SU-24 fighter jets flew at a secure distance to warn the warship.
According to Moscow, the Evertsen was on course for Russian territory, more specifically the Crimean peninsula.
“After the approach of the Russian jets the Evertsen immediately changed its course away from the borders of the Russian Federation,’’ the ministry said.
The Crimean peninsula was occupied by Russia in 2014. While the international community still views it as Ukrainian territory, Russia sees it as its own territory.
According to the Dutch ministry, the Evertsen was in international waters south-east of Crimea at the time of the incident.
Britain also said that during the incident last week, its warship was passing through Ukrainian territorial waters.
Dutch Defence Minister Ank Bijleveld-Schouten called the Russian operation “irresponsible.”
“There is no justification for this type of aggressive action, which additionally increase the risk for accidents,’’ she said.
Moscow views the Sea Breeze exercise as a security risk and had called on the U.S. to abandon it.
Due to the manoeuvre, Russia also sent the submarine Kolpino to the area for an exercise, the Russia’s Black Sea fleet announced on Wednesday.