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.
Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.
"This was a provocation, of course," Putin said during a live question and answer session broadcast by state television.
"(But) 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.