Russia’s sole aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, along with an accompanying nuclear-powered battle cruiser, the Pyotr Velikiy, and a salvage tug boat, were passing through the English Channel on Thursday, and the British Navy was there to keep a “close eye” on them as they did.
British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon didn’t mince words regarding his order to escort the Russian fleet as it passed by, publicly rebuking the Russian government’s involvement in the suppression of rebels within the Syrian nation.
“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,” Fallon said in an official statement. “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.”
Russia played a large role in combat operations in Syria, providing air support and sea-based bombardments against rebels in the contested city of Aleppo and elsewhere. The British official choosing to call the Russian aircraft carrier a “ship of shame” echoes sentiments expressed by other world leaders and representatives, including American ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Powers, who once asked Syria, Russia, and Iran, “Are you truly incapable of shame?” in regard to their actions in Aleppo.
The British Navy deployed Typhoon jets and a frigate to escort the Russian carrier group from a safe distance. A Navy spokesman took a more political line in his assessment of the British response to the presence of the Russian vessels: “Remaining at a respectful distance, but keeping the Russian warships clearly visible, Royal Navy sailors keep watch on every movement through their binoculars and use state-of-the-art radars to track the course and speed of the ships as they pass close to the U.K.”
He also explained that the naval escort was intended to “provide reassurance to the nations which border the North Sea and English Channel.”
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman, Igor Konashenkov, replied to the British official’s statements by dismissing the need for such an escort, and taking his own jab at the Royal Navy.
“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,” Konashenkov said in a statement.
“Firstly, Russian naval vessels don’t need senseless escort services. They know their navigating channel and heading. Secondly, I would advise Mr. Fallon to devote more attention to the British Navy, especially since, as the English press recently noted, there are grounds for doing that.”
Konashenkov’s statements were clearly regarding the failed test firing of a submarine-based Trident missile last June. The missile, which is capable of being armed with a nuclear warhead but was not equipped with any ordnance for the test, veered off course when fired off the coast of Florida and strayed dangerously close to the Unites States mainland.
The test was reportedly covered up by British officials as Prime Minister Theresa May lobbied the British Parliament for billions of dollars to outfit the Royal Navy with a new generation of submarines designed as launch platforms for the Trident missile.
Despite Russia’s response, Commander Chris Ansell, the commanding officer of the frigate tasked with tailing the Russian carrier group, emphasized that they would be vigilant in the presence of Russian warships, and would coordinate with England’s allies if necessary as a part of their defensive posture.
“This tasking demonstrates the Royal Navy’s commitment to protecting our home waters and readiness to undertake short-notice operations,” the commander said in a formal statement. “The movements of the Russian ships are being continually monitored in a coordinated response between the Royal Navy, RAF, and our NATO partners.”
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