ROYAL Navy sailors track a menacing fleet of Russian warships as they carry out practice bombing sorties off the Scottish coast, in dramatic images released today, The Sun reports. Our boys have the eight-strong flotilla of Vladimir Putin well within their sights – just hours after Russian media mocked the ‘tiny’ British fleet.
The giant Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier has been operating its Sukhoi Su-27 fighter jets near the Orkney Islands as it prepares to steam down the English Channel. The 300 metre-long Kuznetsov billows smoke in the background as a Brit sailor observes from HMS Richmond just a few hundred metres away.
Vladimir Putin’s navy is understood to be carrying out the drills to prepare their pilots for combat missions in Syria. The eight hi-tech ships will sail to the war-torn nation’s Mediterranean coast, with the fleet passing through the North Sea and English Channel in the coming days.
First, it is expected to stop off in the shelter of the Moray Firth to re-fuel. Earlier today, Russian broadcasters brazenly predicted iron man Putin is ready to “seize control” of the Mediterranean Sea. A top Moscow military expert then mocked the ‘tiny’ Royal Navy, which has been tasked with tracking the threat.
Britain has been without an aircraft carrier since HMS Illustrious was scrapped in 2014 but will be commissioning the £3.1bn HMS Queen Elizabeth in May 2017. The hi-tech carrier is 280m long and weighs over 70,000 tonnes, eclipsing the 43,000 tonne Kuznetsov. The sabre-rattling move is Putin‘s latest show of strength as he continues to prop up Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad against American wishes.
And insiders in Moscow’s military circles say it marks a first step towards Russia asserting its dominance in the Mediterranean. Defence expert for Russian news agency RIA, Alexander Khrolenko, said: “While the North Atlantic bloc is stalling in the sands of the Middle East, the Russian Navy seizes control over the Atlantic, not to mention the Mediterranean and Black Seas.”
The fearsome Northern Fleet is led by nuclear aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov and battle cruiser Peter the Great. The former is expected to provide more Russian jets to the bombing campaign aimed at anti-Assad fighters in the city of Aleppo. And Khrolenko warned their presence in the Med will tip the naval balance of power away from Nato nations, adding: “They have no equal in the Mediterranean.”
The Mail reported a source as saying: “The Admiral Kuznetsov is currently conducting flight operations off the east coast of the Orkneys. “The pilots need to be certified for carrier take-offs and landings at day and night before it takes up station in the Mediterranean. “They are free to do this in international waters, but once they are in the English Channel, the aircraft will be grounded.”
Images emerged yesterday of the ships sailing past the Norwegian city of Trondheim towards the North Sea, where they are expected to pick up an escort from the Royal Navy. The frigate HMS Richmond and destroyer HMS Duncan will likely shadow the Russian fleet to the Straits of Gibraltar.
But dismissive Khrolenko poured scorn on “what little remains of the Royal Navy”. Speaking about the approach of the ships, a Nato naval source told The Telegraph: “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.” he show of strength is the latest act of defiance from Moscow in the face of Western pressure over its bombing campaign in Syria.
Earlier this month Russia bombers went on a run around Western Europe, forcing the air forces of four Nato members to scramble their fighter jets. President Vladimir Putin has been supporting embattled Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad with air strikes.
The bombing of an aid convoy last month saw a fragile ceasefire disintegrate and put even greater strain on relations between the US and Moscow. Neighbour Turkey warned yesterday that Syria could become a proxy war for the two superpowers as they pile weapons and advisers into the Middle East.