MOSCOW -- Russia is prepared to target intruding warships if they fail to heed warnings, a senior Russian diplomat declared Thursday after a Black Sea incident in which a British destroyer sailed near Crimea in an area that Russia claims as its territorial waters.
Russia said one of its warships fired warning shots and a warplane dropped bombs in the path of British destroyer Defender on Wednesday to drive it away from waters near the Crimean city of Sevastopol. Britain denied that account, insisted its ship wasn't fired upon and said it was sailing in Ukrainian waters.
U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson dismissed Moscow's protests as his government vowed to continue to exercise its right to enter disputed waters off Crimea.
"I think it was wholly appropriate to use international waters," Johnson said Thursday at a military base in Hampshire, declining to say whether he had personally approved the route of the British destroyer. "The important point is that we don't recognize the Russian annexation of Crimea."
Asked for his reaction to Russia saying the U.K. lied over the incident, he replied, "They're the bear."
The incident marked the first time since the Cold War that Moscow acknowledged using live ammunition to deter a NATO warship, underlining the rising threat of military collisions during Russia-West tensions. But Johnson rejected suggestions the incident marks a new low in U.K.-Russian relations, saying, "I can remember times in my life when things have been far worse."
His comments were made as the leaders of France and Germany on Thursday called for dialogue with Russia after last week's summit between Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Joe Biden.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Thursday that "the inviolability of the Russian borders is an absolute imperative," adding that it will be protected "by all means, diplomatic, political and military, if needed."
He sarcastically suggested the British navy should rename its destroyer from Defender to Aggressor and warned that "those who try to test our strength are taking high risks." Asked what Russia would do to prevent such intrusions in the future, Ryabkov told reporters it would stand ready to fire on targets if warnings don't work.
"We may appeal to reason and demand to respect international law," Ryabkov said in remarks carried by Russian news agencies. "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."
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov deplored what he described as a "deliberate and well-prepared provocation" by Britain and seconded the tough warning.
"If unacceptable provocative actions are repeated, if those actions go too far, no options to legitimately protect the borders of the Russian Federation could be excluded," Peskov told reporters.
On Wednesday, the Russian Defense Ministry said a patrol ship fired warning shots after the HMS Defender ignored a notice against intrusion and sailed 1.6 nautical miles into Russia's territorial waters near Sevastopol, the main Russian naval base in Crimea. It said a Russian Su-24 bomber also dropped four bombs ahead of the vessel to persuade the Defender to change course. Minutes later, the Defender left Russian waters, the ministry said.
Russia said the incident lasted about half an hour.
Britain denied the Defender had been fired on or that bombs were dropped in its path. It said the incident was probably a "gunnery exercise" that didn't affect the ship's voyage.
However, reporters for the BBC and the Daily Mail who were aboard the Defender described a tense scene in which the crew put on protective equipment and Russian ships approached within 110 to 220 yards.
A BBC report from the Defender did not show bombs being dropped but showed the ship being buzzed by Russian military aircraft and receiving a threat over the radio to change course or be fired upon.
Footage filmed from a Russian warplane and a drone that was released by the Russian Defense Ministry also showed Russian jets flying close to the Defender. Another video released Thursday showed a Russian coast guard vessel firing warning shots, with the Defender seen at a distance.
Britain insisted its ship was making a routine journey through an internationally recognized travel lane and remained in Ukrainian waters. The U.K., like most of the world, recognizes Crimea as part of Ukraine despite the peninsula's 2014 annexation by Russia.
U.K. Defense Secretary Ben Wallace told The Times newspaper that the British navy "will not be impeded on innocent passage" through the disputed waters.
Information for this article was contributed by Vladimir Isachenkov, Jill Lawless and Daniel Kozin of The Associated Press; and by Henry Meyer and Kitty Donaldson of Bloomberg News (WPNS).