ROYAL Navy warships will “man-mark” a menacing Russia fleet that is preparing a pincer move on the English Channel, the MoD has said, according to News Agencies. Eight Russian vessels led by a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier are heading down the North Sea and are expected to pass through the Dover Straits tomorrow morning.
And they are expected to link up with two more ships there, meaning TEN heavily-armed Russian ships will be operating just miles from the British coast. The Russian Northern Fleet is being stalked by two British warships, while two corvettes heading to Britain through the Bay of Biscay are being tracked by HMS Dragon.
Ministry of Defence chiefs are taking no chances and have pledged to keep the flotilla well within their sights. A spokesman said: “When these ships are near our waters we will man-mark them every step of the way. “We will be watching as part of our steadfast commitment to keep Britain safe.”
They added: “It is pretty unambiguous that they have set a course to pass through the Dover Strait.” But former head of the Royal Navy Admiral Lord West dismissed it as “just a bit of willy waving”. The naval hero told The Sun: “It’s Putin doing a bit of a willy waving in a sense, saying this is what I can do.
“He’s just showing that Russia is there on the world stage.” An MoD spokesperson told the Guardian they expect the fleet to pass Dover within the next 24 hours. They said: “They’re in the North Sea and they’re not going to turn west now – they are going to go through the Channel. It’s hard to say when.”
Dramatic images released yesterday showed our boys monitoring Vladimir Putin’s fleet off the Orkney Islands as they practised bombing sorties. Russian media has referred to the manoeuvres as Operation Sea Fist – just a day after mocking the ‘tiny’ British fleet.
The giant Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier was 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. Putin’s navy is understood to have carried 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.” The 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 on Monday that Syria could become a proxy war for the two superpowers as they pile weapons and advisers into the Middle East.