The Crimea incident raises questions about military deals and client journalism

HMS Defender
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A confrontation between a Royal Navy ship and Russian forces off the coast of Crimea is raising big questions – about journalism, about international relations, and about Britain’s role in the world.

The incident took place on Wednesday 23 June. The British destroyer HMS Defender passed close to the Crimean coast having left Odessa that day. But Russia and the UK tell different stories of what happened next.


Russia has been in control of the Crimean peninsular since 2014, but the western powers say the region was annexed. The route HMS Defender took was through waters Russia considers its own. The response involved a warship shadowing Defender and a coast guard ship closely following the vessel. Multiple aircraft also ‘buzzed’ (flew close to) the UK destroyer.

Russia summoned the UK defence attache in Moscow. And it also claims to have fired warning shots and dropped four bombs near the UK warship. In a BBC video, a Russian voice is heard over a radio threatening to fire.

A Russian minister said:

We may appeal to reason and demand to respect international law. If it doesn’t help, we may drop bombs and not just in the path but right on target if colleagues don’t get it otherwise.


Russians fired no weapons or bombs at or near the ship, according to defence secretary Ben Wallace. He also said Defender had used a legitimate route. Russian claims are propaganda, he told reporters.

Read on...

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These are the things that come an[d] go with Russia. Disinformation, misinformation is something that we have seen regularly. We are not surprised by it.

In a parliamentary statement, he said:

a Russian coastguard vessel warned that Russian units would shortly commence a live-fire gunnery exercise.

They said artillery was seen on shore but it was out of range and “posed no danger”. Wallace insisted there had been no territorial breach. But there is a lot going on behind the scenes.

Ukraine deal

Declassified UK reporter Phil Miller tweeted that the Ukrainian government signed a new military deal with UK firms very recently. The firm Babcock International will build naval bases, and Babcock’s board includes a former head of UK intelligence. The close military relationship between the UK and Ukraine is likely to displease the Russian government.

According to the MOD website, the deal was actually signed aboard HMS Destroyer.

Reporters on board?

The BBC and Daily Mail seem to have had reporters onboard HMS Defender. A number of independent journalist’s questioned their presence.

One pointed out that it was quite a “stroke of luck” media were aboard.

Journalist Jonathan Cook seemed to feel there was something deliberate about the reporters’ presence:

International law?

Speaking on 24 June, PM Boris Johnson said the UK had the right to be in what he described as Ukrainian sovereign territory:

This is part of a 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.

But others questioned the UK’s commitment to order, citing examples where the UK has not respected international law. Declassified UK editor Mark Curtis came up with two striking examples: the Israeli naval blockade of Gaza and the plight of the Chagos Islanders.

The UK government would like to frame Russia as an international bogeyman. But a deeper investigation shows a far more complex story – one of client journalism and defence firm deals. It’s a story that displays nothing of the even-handed role British governments like to pretend they play in the world.

Featured image via Wikimedia Commons/UK Ministry of Defence

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  • Show Comments
    1. OK, good article, Lets take this further out.

      In Feb-March, Ukraine/NATO forces were threatening to invade the east Ukrainian regions, that broke off after Nuland’s well funded and armed coup in Kiev. Russia mobilised 10s of thousands of troops along the border to warn them off, and succeeded. Biden apparently panicked when he realised the logistics of fighting Russia on its own doorstep.

      Then NATO has just held one of its largest naval exercises ever, in the Eastern med, Black Sea regions, with the added cherry of showing off a new capability of intercepting ballistic missiles IN ORBIT. Yes, ‘Star Wars’ is finally here. The purpose of this was to show Russia that NATO could now better protect against a weakened retal if the US launches a FIRST STRIKE upon Moscow.

      This takes ‘sabre-rattling’ to a whole new level.

      Sensible folk may even say a suicidal level.

      And then we get this massive provocation with, as you say, UK corporate media on board.

      Little Englanders in charge, what can you expect?

      In a way, despite the danger to our sailors, who of course have no say in being put in harms way, its a shame Russia didn’t just plonck the ship to “Send a message”, like Tories are so fond of doing.

      Few would miss the relevent high-level corrupt flunkies on the ship.

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