- Two Russian warships were spotted sailing through the North Sea this morning, Ministry of Defence confirms
- They will continue through the English Channel but it is not clear what their final destination will be
- Top military officer warned that there is now more Russian naval activity in Europe than in the Cold War
- Tensions between Britain and Russia are severely heightened after Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson cancelled a trip to Moscow over Putin’s support for Syria following a chemical attack which killed 87 civilians
The Royal Navy will escort two Russian warships through the English Channel tonight after they were spotted sailing through the North Sea towards Dover today.
Royal Navy frigate HMS Sutherland located the two ships in the early hours of this morning.
The Ministry of Defence published photographs of the ships today and said Royal Navy sailors will be keeping watch on their every movement by using state-of-the-art radars to track their course and speed.
It is not known what the destination is of the corvettes, dubbed Soobrazitelny and Boiky.
Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon said: ‘HMS Sutherland is carefully marking these Russian ships as they pass close to UK waters. The Royal Navy maintains a vigilant watch and is always ready to keep Britain safe.’
Commander Andrew Canale, the Commanding Officer of HMS Sutherland, said: ‘As one of the Royal Navy’s high readiness units, HMS Sutherland is required to escort warships that approach the UK and this task is considered routine business for us.
‘It is vitally important the Royal Navy demonstrates its presence and commitment to the integrity of UK territorial waters as we work around the clock to secure the seas of our island nation.’
It comes as a top US and NATO military officer warned that there is now more Russian naval activity in Europe than at any point in the Cold War.
Navy Admiral Michelle Howard, who heads NATO’s Allied Joint Force Command in Naples and commands US forces in EuroAndrew Canale,pe and Africa, said Russia’s strident manouevres could leave the West at a disadvantage.
She warned that when ‘you think about what happens when they move forces around, you look at the alliance and they end up splitting and distracting the view of the alliance.’
Tensions between Britain and Russia are severely heightened after Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson cancelled a trip to Moscow over Putin’s support for Syria following a chemical attack which killed 87 civilians.
Russia quickly hit back saying the cancellation ‘once again confirms doubts about the added value of dialogue with the British’ and said the UK has ‘no real influence on the course of international affairs, remaining ‘in the shadow’ of other countries.
Russia has rejected accusations from the West that Bashar al Assad’s forces were responsible for a chemical attack and has also lashed out at the US for its cruise missile strikes against a Syrian air base.
Assad said reports of the attack were ‘100 per cent a fabrication’ and questioned whether children featured in footage distributed online were really dead.
He insisted it was ‘not clear whether it happened or not, because how can you verify a video? You have a lot of fake videos now.’
Russia has staunchly defended its Middle Eastern ally throughout the civil war there, blocking attempts to remove Assad and throwing their weight of confidence behind statements he has made.
In a tumultuous week for British diplomatic relations with the Kremlin, spy chiefs also issued a call for Russian speakers to help protect the nation as a war of words heats up.
The Government is urging linguists to take up a ‘fascinating career in intelligence’ by joining MI5 or GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters).
Successful applicants to the £30,490 role will be analysing Russian intelligence to keep the country safe as relations with Vladimir Putin’s administration remain strained.
It also comes amid reports that British spy agencies played a crucial role in revealing that President Donald Trump’s campaign team was in contact with Russian intelligence operatives.
Once officials in GCHQ learned of suspicious ‘interactions’ between Trump’s inner circle and suspected Russian agents in late 2015, they passed the information on to the United States.
The tip was passed on during a routine exchange of information, according to an intelligence insider.
During the following six months into 2016, a number of western agencies, including ones in Germany, Estonia and Poland, shared their own information about interactions between people close to Trump and Russians.
Ties between Moscow and the West have been strained since Russia’s annexation of the Crimea region of Ukraine in 2014 and its support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.
NATO has built up physical forces in Poland and the Baltic states to build up a deterrent and underscore the strength of the alliance.
But US and European officials are also increasingly concerned about what they describe as Moscow’s use of propaganda and cyber attacks to influence Western elections.
Russia denies Washington’s claim that Moscow sought to influence the US election, and views NATO’s buildup of troops in Europe as a provocation.
Last August foreign secretary Boris Johnson had said Britain must ‘normalise’ its relationship with Russia after years of hostility.
They had hit rock bottom after an inquiry found Putin ‘probably’ approved the assassination of the Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko.
But then relations between the two countries plummeted even further when Russia stepped up its fight in Syria and joined forces with Assad to bomb Aleppo.
As a high-readiness unit, HMS Sutherland may be called upon at any time to help prevent arms trafficking, people smuggling, conduct counter-terrorism operations, maritime search and rescue, or escort duties like those it is undertaking today.
Earlier this year, Vladimir Putin’s huge aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov was spotted sailing past the white cliffs of Dover as it sailed home to Russia.
A squadron of RAF Typhoon warplanes were deployed to monitor the ageing Soviet-era vessel from the air as it passed menacingly close to Britain accompanied by the nuclear-powered cruiser Pyotr Veliky and support ships.
The vast warship last came close to Britain in October on its way to its deadly mission. Its crew was accused of an ‘indiscriminate’ bombing campaign in support of Assad.