Putin accuses US of involvement in UK warship incident

Britain has defended the ship's route, saying the HMS Defender was making "an innocent passage through Ukrainian territorial waters in accordance with international law".

FILE: A combination of photos of US President Joe Biden on 15 March 2021 and Russian President Vladimir Putin on 6 March 2020. Picture: Eric Baradat, Alexey Nikolsky/AFP/Sputnik

MOSCOW - Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday accused Washington of involvement in an incident involving a British destroyer off the coast of Moscow-annexed Crimea.

Last week, Russia said it fired warning shots to ward off the British navy's HMS Defender as it passed near the Crimean peninsula in the Black Sea in what it said was a violation of its territorial waters.

"This, of course, was a provocation - that is completely obvious," Putin said during his annual televised phone-in.

"It was complex and was carried out not only by the British, but also by the Americans."

As his evidence, Putin said that before the UK ship entered waters claimed by Russia last week, an "American strategic reconnaissance aircraft" had taken off from a NATO military airfield in Greece. He did not provide any more details.

Britain has defended the ship's route, saying the HMS Defender was making "an innocent passage through Ukrainian territorial waters in accordance with international law".

Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and claims the waters around the peninsula as part of its territory. Most countries do not recognise the takeover and stand behind Ukraine's claims to the waters.

Putin said Wednesday that "we on our territory fight for ourselves, for our future".

"Even if we sank that ship, the world wouldn't have been on the verge of World War III, because those who are doing this know that they couldn't be the winners in this war," he said.

Incidents involving Western aircraft and ships are not uncommon at Russia's borders, especially during heightened tensions with Washington, Brussels and London, but rarely result in open fire.

Earlier this month, Putin held his first in-person meeting with US President Joe Biden at a summit in Geneva aimed at restoring relations with Washington that are at their lowest in years.

While both leaders spoke positively about their first in-person meeting, ties between Russia and the United States remain strained.

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