A British warship was dispatched to escort a Russian naval vessel as it passed by U.K. territorial waters on Christmas Day, continuing a British tradition of making political statements in such a manner.
The HMS St Albans, a Royal Navy frigate, was sent to intercept and escort Russia’s Admiral Gorshkov, a warship of the same basic class and among the Russian Navy’s newest military assets, as it traveled through the North Sea close to Britain’s exclusive economic zone. According to a statement released by the British Ministry of Defense, this passing is just a part of a recent uptick in Russian naval activity in the region.
I will not hesitate in defending our waters or tolerate any form of aggression,” said British Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson in a statement announcing the holiday maneuvers. “Britain will never be intimidated when it comes to protecting our country, our people, and our national interests.”
Despite the security value inherent to escorting Russian ships as they pass by British waters, these escort missions are as much about politics as they are about defense. Russian warships regularly pass by U.K. territorial waters as they travel from Northern Russian ports to the open ocean or the Mediterranean. The British Government is, of course, aware that the Russian Navy’s proximity to their territory is based on necessity (and perhaps a bit of theatrical posturing), but also recognize the public relations opportunities presented by these frequent pass-by voyages.
The British government has been openly critical of Russia’s support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in his ongoing conflict against rebels within his nation, for instance, and has used these escort missions in the past as an opportunity to give their objections a platform.
In January of this year, Russia’s troubled carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, as well as a nuclear cruiser and its trusty tug-boat, made a similar pass near British waters, and was met with similar escorts and political posturing.
We will keep a close eye on the Admiral Kuznetsov as it skulks back to Russia; [it’s] a ship of shame whose mission has only extended the suffering of the Syrian people,” then British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon said in an official statement at the time. “We are man-marking these vessels every step of the way around the U.K. as part of our steadfast commitment to keep Britain safe.”
Of course, the chances that a handful of Russian ships would launch some sort of offensive against the U.K., independent of global operations, is extremely unlikely, and these escort missions are more about a show of strength than they are about actually countering Russian aggression. There has been an increased concern about Russia’s ability to meddle with deep-sea internet cables throughout the Atlantic as of late, but again, such meddling would almost certainly not occur just outside of British territorial waters.
The aim of such statements, and the kind of show being played out with the escort of our ships, is to distract the attention of British taxpayers from the real state of the British Royal Navy,” Russian Defense Ministry spokesman, Igor Konashenkov, said of January’s escort operations.
With ongoing Russian misinformation efforts manipulating perceptions around the world, one can hardly blame the British for manipulating a narrative or two when the opportunity presents itself, and that would appear to be exactly what they are doing. By deploying escorts and issuing defensive statements, the British government is drawing public attention to Russian military activities in the Atlantic, which may not deter them from conducting legitimate operations… but might make the Russians think twice about trying to subvert international law in the Northern Atlantic any time soon, as it’s conspicuously apparent that the British will be watching.
Image courtesy of the British Royal Navy