- Paul Adams
- diplomatic correspondent
Sensitive British Defense Ministry documents detailing armed forces’ actions in conflict zones were found at a bus stop in the county of Kent, south-east England.
An excerpt from the documents discusses the prospects of a Russian response to the passage of a British warship through Ukrainian waters off the coast of Crimea last Wednesday (23).
Another set of papers found at a bus stop for a possible British military presence in Afghanistan after the US-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) operation ended.
The British government said it had started an investigation into the matter. A Defense Ministry spokesman said an official reported the loss of sensitive documents and said: “It would be inappropriate to comment further on this matter.”
On Tuesday (22/06) morning behind a bus stop in Kent, a document containing about 50 pages was drenched in rain. One person, who asked for his identity to be protected, contacted the BBC when he realized the sensitive nature of the material.
The BBC believes the documents, which include emails and PowerPoint presentations, were prepared by a senior Defense Ministry official.
Details about the destroyer mission in Crimea
Documents related to HMS Defender, the British destroyer that passed off the coast of Crimea this week, show that Britain’s defense ministry was expecting an aggressive response from Russia, which is facing territorial conflict with Ukraine in that area.
In the papers, the UK Navy’s mission is described as: “flawless passage through Ukrainian territorial waters”, covered with weapons and with helicopters parked in hangars. But passages indicate that the British government expected a strong reaction from the Russians on the ship’s appearance off the coast of Crimea.
Indeed, on Wednesday (23/06) more than 20 Russian aircraft and two Coast Guard ships chased a British destroyer 19 km off the coast of Crimea.
The Russian defense minister said a patrol ship fired warning shots and a jet dropped bombs en route to a British warship, but the UK government denied this information, saying there were no warning shots.
The mission, dubbed “Op Detroit,” was the subject of high-priority discussions on Monday (21), as the documents show, with officials anticipating what Russia’s reaction would be if HMS Defender sailed off the coast of Crimea.
“What do we know about a potential ‘welcome party’?” an officer asked. “With the transition from defense engagement activities to operational activities, it is highly likely that interactions with the RFN (Russian Navy) and VKS (Russian Air Force) will be more frequent and assertive,” warned a presentation contained in documents found in . bus stop.
A series of slides also show the battleship’s route options along the coast of Crimea. One of these is described as a “professional and safe transit directly from Odessa to Batumi”, including a short route through the “Traffic Separation Scheme” (TSS) area near the southwestern tip of Crimea.
The passage, concludes one of the slides, “will guarantee … an opportunity to engage with the Ukrainian government which the UK recognizes as Ukrainian territorial waters.”
Expected Responses from Russia
The document described three possible Russian responses, from “safe and professional” to “neither safe nor professional”.
In this case, Russia decided to react aggressively with radio alerts, coast guard ships coming within 100 meters and warning signals issued by warplanes.
An alternative route, considered by the British government, would keep HMS Defender away from the water, whose territoriality is contested. This would avoid confrontation, the presentation says, but there would be a risk that Russia would see the mission as evidence that “the UK is scared/running away”, allowing Russia to argue that the British had taken over the waters. recognized the authority of Moscow. Crimea.
“As the public might expect, the Defense Ministry plans its actions carefully,” a Defense Ministry spokesman said.
“On a routine basis, this includes analyzing all possible factors that could influence operational decisions.”
In short, the documents show that the passage of the British destroyer through an area near Crimea was a well-intentioned decision by the British government. Despite the risks involved, it was a show of support for Ukraine.
So, was the battleship used as a diplomatic tool?
Certainly the mission involved the use of a military vessel to achieve diplomatic goals. But the primary objective was not “to poke the Russian bear”.
It was a matter of freedom of navigation and clear support for the sovereignty of Ukraine following Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.
Sensitive information about presence in Afghanistan
Most documents are classified as “officially sensitive”, a relatively low level of confidentiality.
But one of the documents was marked “Secret UK Eyes Only”, which in Portuguese translation means “For Secret UK Eyes Only”.
This includes highly sensitive comments about Britain’s possible military presence in Afghanistan after the end of NATO’s current mission.
Earlier this year, US President Joe Biden decided to withdraw US troops from the country, so the operation has begun to decline.
The document discusses a US request for British support in several specific areas and reveals whether any UK special forces will remain in Afghanistan after the US withdrawal is complete.
Press reports have already indicated that Britain is considering keeping troops in the country. Due to the sensitive nature of the document, the BBC has decided not to disclose details that could put British security forces in Afghanistan at risk.
But in front of the news that the situation in the country is going from bad to worse, it gives many alerts.
The document states, “Any UK footprint in Afghanistan that remains …
He says Afghanistan is already becoming more dangerous as NATO’s presence is dwindling. No Brits have been killed in Afghanistan since a deal was signed between the United States and the Taliban in February 2020, the document says, “but this will hardly remain the status quo.”
There has rarely been a collection of lost classified documents covering such important topics in the past.
It is a major source of embarrassment for the UK Ministry of Defence, which is currently investigating how the papers appeared on the ground behind a bus stop in the rain early Tuesday.
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