Socialist Worker

Reject Tory flag-waving after British and Russian naval clash

by Charlie Kimber
Issue No. 2760

HMS Defender on naval manoeuvres

HMS Defender on naval manoeuvres (Pic: Royal Navy)


British and Russian warships violently confronted each other in the Black Sea this week.

The incident underlines the dangers of the Tories’ aggressive nationalism—and how imperialist rivalries constantly threaten war.

The Russian defence ministry claimed a patrol ship fired warning shots and a Sukhoi Su-24 attack aircraft dropped bombs to chase away HMS Defender. The British vessel entered waters off the Crimean coast, ignored several warnings and made a 3 kilometre incursion near Cape Fiolent on the southern tip of the peninsula.

Crimea was occupied and annexed by Russia in March 2014.

On Thursday, Boris Johnson said the route was “wholly appropriate” and the destroyer was “sticking up for our values”.

HMS Defender, a destroyer equipped with guided missiles, had just left Odessa in Ukraine.

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The Financial Times newspaper reported “British and Ukrainian officials met on board the destroyer on Tuesday to agree a defence deal” with Britain helping “boost Ukraine’s naval capabilities”.

“The co-operation will include training of Ukrainian navy personnel, the creation of new naval bases, and the purchase of two Sandown class minehunters,” it says.

Such a deal was certain to anger Russia's rulers. 

It was very convenient for the British state that the BBC’s defence correspondent Jonathan Beale and a Daily Mail journalist were on board. If the Tories had wanted to orchestrate a “Rule Britannia” moment, it would have been perfect to have a face-off with Russia.

And it would fit as the British state comes under pressure to break apart and a by-election approaches.

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Certainly the government wants constantly to push nationalism.

We are told it is “One Britain One Nation Day” on Friday this week. Children will be “encouraged” to sing a song, with lyric including, “We are Britain and we have one dream, to unite all people in one great team.”  

The British defence ministry denied that Russia had fired shots. But this was refuted by the BBC’s Beale. Even this tame purveyor of the military’s line wrote, “Two Russian coastguard ships that were shadowing the Royal Navy warship tried to force it to alter course.

“Increasingly hostile warnings were issued over the radio—including one that said, ‘If you don't change course I'll fire’.”

Beale added, “There have been at times more than 20 aircraft above the warship. And there have been warnings from Russia coastguard vessels and indeed we have heard shots fired.”

HMS Defender is part of a flotilla supporting Britain’s new aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth, which is on its first mission. The task force includes submarines, attack aircraft, and British and US soldiers and sailors.

This Carrier Strike Group 21 (CSG21) left Britain last month on a six-month trip to highly-contested areas such as the South China sea.

Destroyers 

The Tory chief of the defence select committee, Tobias Ellwood, told the BBC on Thursday that Western nations should stop being so “risk averse”. He called for one of the group’s destroyers to be sent through the Taiwan Strait, a move that would definitely enrage the Chinese state.

On its way to raise tensions with China, HMS Defender dropped off from the group to contest with Russia.

The Ministry of Defence described CSG21 in April as “the largest concentration of maritime and air power to ever leave” Britain.

But, after being reminded about the Falklands fleet of 1982, it changed the claim to be the biggest “in a generation”.

The CGS21 commander tweeted this week that the group offered, “Fifth generation combat power ready to go—hour after hour, day or night.”

Eighteen warplanes, including British 35B Lightning Stealth jets and US F35B jets were deployed last week. The CSG 21 commander Steve Moorhouse, said it was a “significant moment”.

“To date we have delivered diplomatic influence on behalf of the UK through a series of exercises and engagements with our partners,” he said. “Now we are ready to deliver the hard punch of maritime-based air power against a shared enemy.”

The carrier’s warplanes commander, Captain James Blackmore, said this “marks the Royal Navy’s return to maritime strike operations for the first time since the Libya campaign a decade ago.”

He added it was the “first combat mission flown by US aircraft from a foreign carrier since HMS Victorious in the South Pacific in 1943. The level of integration between Royal Navy, Royal Air Force and US Marine Corps is truly seamless and testament to how close we’ve become since we first embarked together.”

This is a new level of military alliance that if designed to fit a world of sharp imperialist rivalries with China and Russia.

The Tories say they are insisting on “freedom of navigation of the seas”, although they don’t apply that to refugees trying to reach Britain from Calais or Europe from North Africa.

In reality, they are whipping up an increasingly dangerous nationalism. 


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