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Secret Royal Navy Planning Documents Found at a Bus Stop in Kent

defender
HMS Defender (Royal Navy file image)

Published Jun 27, 2021 8:06 PM by The Maritime Executive

A set of Royal Navy planning documents for HMS Defender's recent freedom of navigation operation off Crimea were discovered by a passerby at a bus stop in Kent, according to the BBC. 

A member of the public found the crumpled and wet packet of documents early Tuesday morning, and the individual - who wished to remain anonymous - passed the contents to the media. It contained "sensitive" documents regarding the recent transit of HMS Defender off the coast of Crimea, including discussions of the likely Russian reaction to the mission. 

The papers show that UK officials considered and discarded an alternate route that would have avoided Russian-claimed waters off the peninsula, sending Defender on a dogleg course further to the south. The option that planners ultimately selected put the destroyer about 10 nm off Sevastopol, home of the Russian Navy's Baltic Fleet, on a transit voyage to Batumi, Georgia. 

The papers show that the route was a considered decision, and was intended to enforce the right of innocent passage through the contested region. In keeping with the provisions of UNCLOS, Defender was instructed to conduct the transit with guns covered and her helicopter stowed in her hangar. An unwelcome reception by Russian forces was expected. 

After the freedom of navigation (FONOP) transit was completed on Wednesday, the Russian Ministry of Defense released a statement suggesting that Defender was chased off by warning shots and bombardment, including aerial delivery of four live bombs "on the course" of the vessel. The UK Ministry of Defence denies that any warning shots were fired (or dropped). 

Recordings of radio exchanges between Russian patrol vessels and Defender's bridge team appear to show that the Russian Navy instructed her to depart immediately. Journalists embedded aboard Defender confirmed these exchanges, but reported no signs of warning shots. 

“We may appeal to reason and demand to respect international law,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told Russian news agencies on Thursday. “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.  . . . Those who try to test our strength are taking high risks."

An additional stack of papers in the pile was marked "secret for UK eyes only," and it detailed plans for Britain's presence in Afghanistan after the American withdrawal. The BBC did not disclose its contents due to security concerns.