Ukraine infuriates Moscow ‘by awarding Royal Navy commander who sailed close to Crimea with “Defender of Ukraine” medal’
- Ukraine has reportedly awarded a top honour to Commander Vincent Owen, 42
- It comes after he took the HMS Defender into disputed area of the Crimean seas
- Russia said they fired warning shots at the British Type 45 destroyer last month
- Reports of the captain’s award have sparked a new round of hostility in Moscow
Cdr Vincent Owen, 42, is believed to have been given the honorary Defender of Ukraine medal after last month’s flashpoint incident.
But reports of the award have sparked a new round of fury and hostility in Moscow with a fresh onslaught against the British captain of HMS Defender.
Last month, the HMS Defender sailed within the 12-mile limit of Crimea in the Black Sea, which Russia claims as its own territory but the West sees as international waters.
Owen was quoted as saying his ship sailed close to the Black Sea peninsula – annexed by Vladimir Putin from Ukraine in 2014 – ‘to assert the position that Crimea and the waters around it legally belong to Ukraine’.
He stated: ‘The Royal Navy and UK will always call out states that do not follow international order.’
A Russian FSB security service patrol boat fired ‘warning shots’ at the destroyer while Moscow reported that a warplane had also bombed the route of HMS Defender.
In the wake of the incident Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov described the British warship’s actions as a ‘deliberate and premeditated provocation’.
Moscow’s deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov warned in a future incident ‘we can bomb not only in the direction but also on target’ of a naval ship approaching Crimea.
Owen’s medal was announced during a ceremony in Odessa presided over by Rear Admiral Oleksiy Neyizhpapa, head of Ukraine’s armed forces, reported Focus news magazine several newspapers in Kyiv.
The British commander was not present at the ceremony, remaining with his destroyer which has since visited Georgia and Istanbul.
Awards were also made to Western commanders after recent NATO drills for ‘strengthening the combat readiness’ of Ukraine’s navy.
Ukrainian military sources confirmed awards were made but did not give details or specify Owen by name.
Senior pro-Putin senator Alexey Pushkov said: ‘This ‘hero’ entered Russian territorial waters for 30 minutes and then retreated.
‘For this he was awarded the ‘Defender of Ukraine’ medal.
‘So Kyiv de facto recognised these waters as Russian.
‘Because if they are Ukrainian, as they say in Kiev and London, what then is this award for?’
A headline from NSN read: ‘Ukraine awards HMS Defender’s captain for provocation.’
And a pro-Kremlin source Regnum said: ‘It cannot get more shameful than this.’
Pro-Vladimir Putin blogger Sergey Kolyasnikov claimed Ukraine had honoured a ‘coward’, repeating the Russian version that HMS Defender had changed course and retreated from Crimean waters after threats from the FSB patrol boat.
Britain denies the warship changed source.
The HMS Defender was passing through the Black Sea as part of an exercise also involving a Dutch frigate having just left the southern Ukrainian port of Odessa.
The British Type 45 destroyer sailed within the 12-mile limit of Crimea near Cape Fiolent in the Black Sea, which Russia claims as its own territory but the West sees as international waters.
Mr Wallace and the UK’s National Security Council had approved orders for Commander Owen to set course for Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula invaded by Russia in 2014 and still occupied by President Putin’s elite forces.
Commander Owen’s ‘freedom of navigation’ patrol took the Defender into disputed seas just off the Crimean coastline.
Repeated bursts of cannon fire could be heard off the deck of HMS Defender as President Vladimir Putin’s forces responded to the warship legitimately entering Crimean territorial waters in the Black Sea.
A Russian statement said: ‘The destroyer had been warned that weapons would be used if it trespassed the border of the Russian Federation. It did not react to the warning.’
Russian military officials also claimed a Russian plane dropped four high explosive fragmentation bombs as another warning to the UK warship.
But this claim is almost certainly propaganda as no ordnance of this nature was seen or heard by the crew of Defender or picked up by her hi-tech sensors.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace rubbished the claim of shots being directed at the ship, telling MPs: ‘At no point were warning shots fired at HMS Defender, nor bombs dropped in her path as has been asserted by the Russian authorities.’
A Russian official warned British warships could be bombed the next time they sail too close to Crimea after warning shots were fired at HMS Defender.
After the flashpoint, which saw 20 Su-24s buzzing over the Royal Navy vessel, Russia’s deputy foreign minister Sergey Ryabkov warned: ‘What can we do? We can appeal to common sense, demand respect for international law.
‘If this does not help, we can bomb not only in the direction but also on target, if our colleagues do not understand.’