Russia threat: Vladimir Putin’s provocation sparked Royal Navy’s biggest response in years

And, Iain Ballantyne said Russian President Vladimir Putin will also have dispatched nuclear and non-nuclear to test NATO’s preparedness in the midst of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic – with personnel at Scottish base Faslane among those to forced to self-isolate last month. The size of the Russian force which was tracked sailing through the narrow waterway last Thursday indicated Mr Putin’s determination not to scale back military manoeuvres at a time of crisis. Mr Ballantyne, Editor of WARSHIPS International Fleet Review, told “For its part, NATO showed it was not going sit idly by as the Russians sent such large numbers of warships into waters close to the shores of north European Alliance member states.

The Royal Navy mounted its most powerful response to the Russians for many years

Iain Ballantyne

“The Royal Navy mounted its most powerful response to the Russians for many years as they sailed close to the UK: four Type 23 frigates (HMS Argyll, HMS Kent, HMS Sutherland and HMS Richmond); two off-shore patrol vessels (HMS Tyne and HMS Mersey) and a survey vessel (HMS Echo), along with naval helicopters and back-up from Royal Fleet Auxiliary support ships RFA Tideforce and RFA Tidespring.

“This enabled a sustained shadowing operation to be conducted from the sea and the air, gathering vital intelligence on how the Russians work and letting them know the seas were not theirs alone.

“It was a major effort to send a message to Moscow that Britain stands ready to defend its territorial waters in conjunction with NATO allies, who also deployed warships to shadow the Russians.”

The allied effort was also mounted despite the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, which has infected naval personnel around the world.

Staff at HM Naval Base Clyde, commonly known as Faslane, which is home to the UK’s nuclear deterrent, were forced to self-isolate last month after showing symptoms.

Mr Ballantyne stressed Russia’s activities did not begin and end with what happened in the English Channel.

He said: “Beyond what we could see going on – the activities of surface vessels – submarines were no doubt out there supporting the Kremlin’s surface warship deployments, not least stealthy Kilo Class conventional submarines and nuclear-powered attack boats.

“NATO submarines may well have been trying to trail them.”

However, he added: “The Russian submarines are unlikely to have sailed through the English Channel submerged, as that would risk being seen as an act of war so close – and even risking straying into – the territorial waters of France and the UK.

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“They are more likely to have sailed out past the west of Ireland, well within international waters, before heading south.”

Sailors and aircrew were able to monitor every movement of the Russian ships using state-of-the-art radar, surveillance cameras and sensors, allowing them to track their course and speed as they passed the British Isles, the Royal Navy said after the encounter.

They were supported by Merlin and Wildcat helicopters of 814 and 815 Naval Air Squadrons.

Portsmouth-based HMS Tyne spent more than a week working in the English Channel, in rough seas, keeping a close eye on the Russian vessels as they passed the south coast.

In total, three Steregushchiy-class corvettes, two Ropucha-class landing ships and two Admiral Grigorovich-class frigates were observed.

HMS Sutherland’s Operations Officer, Lieutenant Hannah Lee, said: “Our successful integration into the maritime group proves our ability to adapt to task group operations at short notice.

“Having proved we can work together and contributed once again to NATO operations, we now look to return to UK national tasks in support of the very highest defence priorities.”

In addition, recent NATO duties have seen HMS Sutherland support the French carrier strike group led by aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle.

HMS Sutherland, working alongside French, Norwegian, German and Danish ships, then carried out surface and air defence exercises before undertaking joint gunnery training.

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