Russian warships in the English Channel in 2014 — HMS Dragon (foreground), a Type 45 Royal Navy destroyer, escorting the Admiral Kuznetsov in the English Channel in 2014 CREDIT: EPA
Russia is expected to sail its only aircraft carrier through the English Channel later this month amid strained relations between London and Moscow over the Syria crisis.
Royal Navy chiefs and their Nato allies are drawing up plans to escort up to eight Russian warships which are due to leave port imminently to join the country’s air strike campaign against Syrian rebels.
Admirals believe the Kremlin will use the voyage as an opportunity for a show of strength as it passes Britain, and expect the carrier’s aircraft to launch flying drills off the British and French coasts.
The Royal Naval preparations come after Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary, this week triggered a diplomatic row by saying he would “like to see demonstrations outside the Russian embassy” in London over Moscow’s role in the ongoing Syrian conflict.
A former First Sea Lord on Friday said Russian posturing risked inflaming tensions further.
Nato navies have been preparing a major operation to track the 55,000 tonne Admiral Kuznetsov and its escorts in a game of “naval cat and mouse” down through the North Atlantic to the Bay of Biscay and then into the Mediterranean.
One Nato naval source said the Russian vessels were due to leave Severomorsk near Murmansk imminently and could pass Britain as early as next week.
The source said: “It’s not catching us by surprise, we are working up what to do and we are all over it. The most likely thing is that they will go through the North Sea, down the Dover Strait and through the Channel.
“They might even stop off the North East coast to fly for a bit.”
But the source said it was also possible the Russian warships would split, with some going through the Irish Sea or down the West coast of Ireland, “to cause more trouble”.
The source said: “Even if it splits five ways and we can’t man mark them, it doesn’t matter, we have got this covered.”
Tags: Admiral Kuznetsov, Bay of Biscay, Boris Johnson, Britain, British coast, demonstrations outside the Russian embassy, Dover Strait, English Channel, First Sea Lord, France, French coast, Irish Sea, Murmansk, NATO, North Atlantic, North Sea, Putin, Royal Navy, Russia, Russian aircraft carrier, Russian Navy, Russian warships, Severomorsk, Syria, UK, war crimes