When the news broke, it was hard to believe. Not the fact of there having been an incident involving Russia and a British warship in the Black Sea – that was all too credible – but what was claimed and denied.
Russia said that its forces had fired warning shots and dropped bombs in the path of the warship, HMS Defender. The British responded by saying that, no, they hadn’t. This was the first time – in many years of following the ups and (usually) downs of UK-Russia relations – that I can recall Russia claiming what could be seen as an aggressive and warlike act, and the UK denying that Russia had done anything untoward.
The first explanation from the Ministry of Defence (MoD) was that the ship had received advance warning of a Russian exercise and that, in so far as there had been any firing, it had nothing to do with the ship. The second version offered vivid footage of British dering-do in the face of vain Russian attempts to force a change of course – or so it seemed, from the reports of journalists on board.
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