It is unlikely the world “would have been on the verge of World War Three” if Russia had sunk a British warship near Crimea, Vladimir Putin has said.

The Russian president claimed HMS Defender, a Type 45 destroyer, illegally entered his country’s territorial waters near Crimea in order to observe in detail how Russian forces would react.

He accused the British warship of operating in sync with a US spy plane to monitor Russia’s military response.

“This was a provocation, of course,” Mr Putin said, during a marathon live question and answer session broadcast by state television.

“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.”

The UK has dismissed Moscow’s claims that warning shots were fired at the Royal Navy destroyer and that bombs were dropped in the warship’s path.

The Ministry of Defence said HMS Defender was “conducting innocent passage through Ukrainian territorial waters in accordance with international law”.

The UK, like most of the rest of the world, considers Crimea to be part of Ukraine despite its annexation by Russia in 2014.