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Putin says UK warship near Crimea wanted to test Russia's military response

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Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during an annual nationwide televised phone-in show in Moscow, Russia June 30, 2021. Sputnik/Sergei Savostyanov/Pool via REUTERS

MOSCOW, June 30 (Reuters) - A British warship that Russia says illegally entered its territorial waters near Crimea earlier this month did so to observe in detail how Russian forces would react, President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday.

Russia summoned the British ambassador in Moscow for a formal diplomatic scolding after the warship, HMS Defender, breached what the Kremlin says are its territorial waters but which Britain and most of the world say belong to Ukraine.

London has said the destroyer followed an internationally recognised corridor on its way from Ukraine to Georgia and denied that a stand-off with Russian forces took place - even as Moscow said it would bomb trespassing vessels next time. read more

Russia annexed Crimea - which hosts its Black Sea navy base - from Ukraine in 2014, prompting sanctions from the West.

"This was a provocation, of course," Putin said during a live question and answer session broadcast by state television.

"It was obvious that the destroyer entered (the waters near Crimea) pursuing, first of all, military goals, trying to use a reconnaissance aircraft to discover how our forces would stop such provocations, to see what happens on our side, how things work and where everything is located."

Putin said Russia - which said its forces made warning shots at the British destroyer and dropped bombs in its path - responded in such a way that would only give the other side the information that Moscow wanted them to have.

Putin also said he saw a political component in the incident, which took place shortly after he met United States President Joe Biden in Geneva.

"The meeting in Geneva had just happened, so why was this provocation needed, what was its goal? To underscore that those people do not respect Crimeans' choice to join the Russian Federation."

At the same time, Putin played down the severity of the incident's potential consequences.

"Even if we had sunk the British destroyer near Crimea it is unlikely that the world would have been on the verge of World War Three," he said.

Reporting by Andrew Osborn and Vladimir Soldatkin; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Alex Richardson

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