The Royal Navy was on Thursday forced to deny Russian claims that a British destroyer had been chased out of Crimean waters.
It comes after General Vladimir Kulishov, the deputy director of Russia’s Federal Security Service, claimed that HMS Dragon, a Type 45 destroyer, flouted international maritime laws after it sailed into its territorial waters in October.
Moscow claimed that the Type 45 destroyer ignored “warnings” not to enter “Russian territorial waters” in October last year.
Genl Kulishov said: “The destroyer Dragon of the British Navy crossed the state border of the Russian Federation in the area of Cape Khersones in the Black Sea.
“The destroyer’s captain responded with a poor signal to the demand to immediately leave Russian territorial waters.
“As a result of the joint actions with the Russian Navy and the Russian Aerospace Forces, the warship was expelled into neutral waters.”
He said the ship had displayed “unfriendly” actions when it claimed the right of innocent passage in waters near the westernmost point of Sevastopol, the largest city in Crimea and the site of the headquarters of the Russian Black Sea Fleet.
However, the Ministry of Defence slapped down the allegations as “categorically untrue”.
The Telegraph understands that the warship sailed through the Black Sea from Odessa in Ukraine to Batumi in Georgia.
A Whitehall source added that as the UK did not recognise Russia’s sovereignty over Crimea and the waters around Crimea were not considered Russian territorial waters.
An MoD spokesman said: “HMS Dragon was taking the most direct route between two port visits, navigating a recognised safe route for all international shipping within Ukrainian waters.
“The Russian Federation Navy did not impede HMS Dragon’s passage. She navigated without incident, exercising our right of innocent passage under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.”
Rear-Admiral Chris Parry, a former naval officer, said the statement from Moscow was “typical of Russian behaviour”.
He told The Telegraph that he was in “no doubt” the UK played by maritime laws, which state that a ship can sail 12 miles inside territorial seas if it is going from A to B.
He said: “At no stage did HMS Dragon contravene international law. It’s convenient for Russia to say it chased ships out of their jurisdiction. It’s totally illegal for Russia to do that. They will keep doing this and that’s why we have to keep asserting our rights to be there.”
Tobias Ellwood, chairman of the defence select committee, accused Moscow of “pure misinformation that will be dismissed right across the world”.
Lord West, the former first sea lord, questioned Moscow’s timeline of accusations and said “when they make a statement like this long after the event, it will be a lie”.
“There is no way a Royal Navy ship would do anything other than exercise her right to exercise a route of international passage. It wouldn’t go stooging around Russian waters.”
Lord West warned that if President Putin was not careful, his “silly games” could result in a serious accident.
“What game Putin is playing long term is hard to know,” he said, cautioning that: “playing silly games always gives the risk of escalation”.
It comes after the First Sea Lord said at the weekend that Russia was expected to “behave responsibly” and not respond recklessly to Britain’s aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth, which will sail through the Mediterranean and Indian Ocean and on to the Indo-Pacific.
Given the proximity to Russian forces in the Black Sea, there is concern that international tensions could be inflamed, however Admiral Tony Radakin said: “I don’t expect to see the recklessness that we’ve seen of Russian behaviour in the past.”