Boris tells Putin Britain will not back down and calls Crimean annexation ‘illegal’

George Eustice discusses HMS Defender route

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The Prime Minister also insisted that it was “wholly appropriate” for British navy vessels to sail through international waters close to the Crimean coast. His remarks come a day after the Royal Navy destroyer HMS Defender was shadowed by two Russian coastguard vessels and at least 20 fighter jets as it passed 12 miles off Crimea’s coast on its way from Odessa to Georgia. Russia’s Defence Ministry claimed that one of its patrol boats fired warning shots at the British destroyer, while an SU-24 fighter jet dropped four bombs in its path.

The UK government has refuted Moscow’s version of events and denied that warning shots were fired.

During a visit on Thursday to the New Normandy barracks in Aldershot, the Prime Minister was asked whether he had personally authorised HMS Defender to use the route.

Mr Johnson replied: “These are a matter for the MoD [Ministry of Defence] but if you want my view I think it was wholly appropriate to use international waters, and by the way the important point is that we don’t recognise the Russian annexation of Crimea.

“This is part of sovereign Ukrainian territory.

“It was entirely right that we should vindicate the law and pursue freedom of navigation in the way that we did, take the shortest route between two points, and that’s what we did.”

The Prime Minister added that it was important for Britain to stand up for its principles, such as democracy and human rights.

He then reiterated: “We don’t recognise the Russian annexation of Crimea, it was illegal, these are Ukrainian waters and it was entirely right to use them to go from A to B.”

Russia annexed the Crimea in February 2014, after the fall of the pro-Russian Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in the wake of pro-democracy protests.

Analysts believe that Putin moved to take back the peninsula due to concerns for the fate of its Black Sea fleet, which is stationed at a naval base in Sevastopol.

Mr Yanukovyach had agreed to extend Russia’s lease of the base until at least 2042 just before his removal from power.

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Sergei Ryabkov insisted that Russia would use whatever means at its disposal to defend its “territorial integrity”.

Asked what Russia’s future response might be to further “incursions” by British ships, the deputy Foreign Minister warned: “We can appeal to common sense and demand respect for international law.

“If this does not help, we can bomb, not just in the path [of the ship] but also the target.”

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