Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday that even if Russian forces sank the British destroyer, it would not have started a new world war because the "Western powers know they could not win such a war."
"You said the world teetered on the brink of a world war. No, of course not,” Putin said during an annual question-and-answer session moderated by state media.
“Even if we had sunk that ship, it would still be difficult to imagine that this would have put the world on the brink of world war three, since those who are doing this, they know that they cannot emerge victorious from this war,” Putin alleged.
The Russian president called the last week's incident with the British Royal Navy destroyer in the Black Sea "a provocation" prepared jointly by London and Washington for reconnaissance purposes.
Russian officials claimed to have fired warning shots and even dropped bombs near the vessel, but the U.K. countered that Moscow was lying about an uneventful encounter.
British officials sent the HMS Defender to the waters off the coast of Crimea as a show of support for Ukraine, which lost control of the Crimean peninsula in 2014 when Russian special forces invaded and seized the territory.
"It was obvious that the destroyer came in, first of all, pursuing military goals, trying with the help of a reconnaissance aircraft to reveal what actions our armed forces will use to stop such provocations, they looked at what was turned on, how it works, where it is located."
"We saw this and knew it, so we gave such information as we considered necessary," Putin said, adding: "I apologize to the military. I hope I didn't divulge any sensitive information."
The Western naval drills come on the heels of a major Russian military buildup that raised the specter of a new major invasion into Ukraine, which has been embroiled in a Russian-led conflict in eastern Ukraine since 2014.
Putin raised the alarm over Ukraine's cooperation with NATO and the West, saying "military taking over of Ukraine's territory" creates serious problems for Russia.
"The military taking over of the territory that directly borders us creates significant security problems. This concerns the real-life interests of the Russian Federation and the people of Russia. This is what causes concern," he said.
Putin slammed the actions of the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky but he said he could meet with Zelensky to discuss the existing problems.
Russia claimed on June 23 that it fired warning shots and dropped bombs in the path of a British warship to chase it out of Black Sea waters off the coast of Crimea.
Britain's Defense Ministry denied the HMS Defender had been fired upon, saying that Russia was carrying out a previously announced "gunnery exercise" in the area. Britain said it was practising freedom of navigation in Ukrainian and international waters.
In response to the incident, Moscow "warned" that it was prepared to fire on warships entering territorial waters it claims around Crimea.
Russia had occupied Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014 after sending in troops and staging a sham referendum dismissed as illegal by at least 100 countries. Moscow is also backing separatists in a war in eastern Ukraine that has killed more than 13,000 people since April 2014.