From the video BBC journalist reports from British warship as Russia “fires warning shots” - BBC News in June 2021 here are some screenshots and transcribed audio (mine but based on BBC's closed captions).

Discussion between The BBC's defense correspondent Jonathan Beale and Lieutenant Commander Ben Dorrington, HMS Defender:

Beale: (Narrating) HMS defender is going to sail within what Russia now claims is its territorial waters but following a legally recognized shipping lane.

(Question to Dorrington:) Would you say there's a flashpoint here in terms of how the Russians will behave?

Dorrington: There's a contentious point. Their posture will likely be more belligerent because of our proximity to what they recognize as (pause) their waters.

This apparently cautiously choreographed (by both sides) event might be somewhat staged for appearances. But I'd like to ask about how things are going on days when there are no non-Russian military ships nearby this area (within 12 nautical miles of the Crimean Peninsula (area with Cape Fiolent and Sebastopol labeled)).

Question: How is Russia responding to non-military maritime traffic in the legally recognized shipping lane passing within territorial waters off the Crimean Peninsula? Is there commercial traffic passing with (or without) permission through the 12 nautical mile limit, or is it generally staying outside to avoid confrontation? If there is regular commercial traffic within it, is Russia allowing it to pass, giving permission on a case-by-case basis, or discouraging it?

screen shot from the video BBC journalist reports from British warship as Russia “fires warning shots” - BBC News screen shot from the video BBC journalist reports from British warship as Russia “fires warning shots” - BBC News

first: Screenshot from the linked video. second: Ditto but with contrast boosted a bit. click images for full size

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    "within its territorial waters off the Crimean Peninsula" - that's Ukranian territory. Commented Jun 25, 2021 at 7:37
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    @MartinSchröder if you check the edit history, I had quotes in several places in versions 2 but two almost-instantaneous down votes made me wonder if people were seeing the quotes and thinking this was a low-quality question. So I removed them for version 3, with the reason: "removed quotes; I have a hunch folks were scared by presumed "scare quotes" and did read far enough to see my explanation of their use." This is a challenging SE site to ask questions, some of mine fly and some don't.
    – uhoh
    Commented Jun 25, 2021 at 7:52
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    @MartinSchröder: that may be our opinion but the official status seems to be 'disputed': en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Political_status_of_Crimea Commented Jun 28, 2021 at 18:27
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    I guess that the answer to this question are drastically affected by the Russian invasion of the rest of Ukraine since February 2022. I added a date to the question to indicate it was asked before the War between Russia and Ukraine intensified. Nowadays probably no foreign ship, not to speak of UK military vessels dare to go close to Crimea. Commented Jul 31, 2022 at 11:52
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    @AnshulSahni thank you for the edit and the heads-up! I'd never thought about how SE posts look on mobile devices, but now I'll keep that in mind.
    – uhoh
    Commented Aug 3, 2022 at 8:25

2 Answers 2


Non-military maritime traffic is treated as usual maritime traffic, according to the UN rules:

foreign ships (military and civilian) are allowed innocent passage through it

So, sometimes on vesselfinder.com, you may notice foreign ships in Crimean waters, like that one, from Moldova: enter image description here

Many countries treat that waters as contested, so there are not many such ships. But some are still present.

And about the incident, somehow mentioned in the question:

UK interpretation: HMS Defender is sailing in "international" waters and was not warned by Russian ships. No planes, no warning shots, nothing:

"We believe the Russians were undertaking a gunnery exercise in the Black Sea and provided the maritime community with prior warning of their activity.
"No shots were directed at HMS Defender and we do not recognise the claim that bombs were dropped in her path."

Exact incident:

Russia responds to it as break into its territorial waters[*], as an act of propaganda aimed at affecting the defence, or security of the coastal State.

Also, it should be noted, that there was a BBC correspondent on the British ship, treating it as a more contested provocation. Also, a witness of this correspondent highlights an open lie of the UK officials, which were denying that incident.

The exact timing was:

  • 11:52 - British destroyer Defender crossed the Russian border and entered territorial waters around Fiolent cape
  • 12:06 - 12:08 - Russian coast guard ship made a warning shot
    FSB, which is operating coast guard published a video from one of the two coast guard ships, tracking Defender: https://youtu.be/nAVRcyndS_g. At 0:20 you may even see mentioned BBC correspondent near the bridge. Warning shots (denied by GB officials) can be seen at 5:21. enter image description here
  • 12:19 - Russian bomber Su-24M made a warn bombing with 4 OFAB-250 in destroyer's path enter image description here
  • 12:23 - Defender has left Russian internal waters

After the incident, the British attache and British ambassador were given strong demarche.

Later, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov warned British officials:

If that doesn’t work, we can bomb not only the path but also the target, if our colleagues don’t understand.

*in fact, those waters are contested areas, as long as western countries do not accept Crimea as a Russian region.

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    "in fact, those waters are contested area, as long as western countries do not accept Crimea as Russian region." -> Or, we might say, "in fact, those waters are contested area, as long as Russia do not accept Crimea as Ukrainian region."
    – Evargalo
    Commented Jun 24, 2021 at 12:12
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    @user2501323 And Russian sources are more trustworthy than the BBC?!? A balanced presentation should state the narratives of both sides and then let the reader decide which one they consider more believable.
    – Philipp
    Commented Jun 24, 2021 at 14:30
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    Actually, the BBC correspondent says the warning shots were believed to be happening at a distance, not close to the UK ship (a proper warning shot would be placed across the bow of the target ship). As your linked BBC article states (in the section from the correspondent on board): "Increasingly hostile warnings were issued over the radio - including one that said "if you don't change course I'll fire". We did hear some firing in the distance but they were believed to be well out of range."
    – JJJ
    Commented Jun 25, 2021 at 5:30
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    @user2501323 So did the warning shots land close to the British ship or not? I guess that's the question. If the warning shots weren't a shot across the bow then both parties are right. The UK is right in claiming there were no warning shots aimed at or near their ship and the Russians are right to claim that shots were fired, which the UK doesn't deny by saying they understood there was a Russian exercise (as they claimed in the Euronews article you linked).
    – JJJ
    Commented Jun 25, 2021 at 5:38
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    Now that the (long) dialog in chat has established that neither the Russian nor the British official statements are obviously false, and that they are not even contradictory, this answer would be improved by expliciting both instead of dismissing the english one as an "open lie". Alternatively, all the off-topic "about the incident" section could be removed; I would gladly upvote the first part about "Non-military maritime traffic" which actually answers the question, if it was not tainted by what comes after.
    – Evargalo
    Commented Jun 25, 2021 at 8:24

I've found a source that seems to address this. Though I'd prefer something more definitive, substantial and in depth, I'll post this for now as a partial answer to my own question, in hopes that a better answer eventually supersedes it.

CBS News' U.S. warship leads drills in Russia's backyard, a message that the Black Sea is "for everybody" says:

Russia has refused to allow foreign ships to pass through what it considers its territorial waters off the Crimean Peninsula — territory that Moscow unilaterally annexed away from Ukraine in 2014. Russia has threatened to bomb any vessels that enter the area.

That says "foreign ships", but later the same article uses "warships":

Russia has threatened to bomb foreign warships that sail into those waters in the future.

The training exercise that the USS Ross is participating in is several miles away from that patch of the Black Sea, and the American warship is heavily armed with Tomahawk and Harpoon missiles, and torpedoes.

Thus it is still less than certain (to me at least) if passage by all foreign ships or only military ships is refused, as well as what exactly "foreign ship" means (registry, ownership, etc.)


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