Royal Navy escorts Russian warships through English Channel

A Royal Navy ship has escorted two Russian warships as they passed through the English Channel.

HMS Sutherland monitored Steregushchiy-class corvettes Soobrazitelny and Boiky as well as a Russian support tanker and ocean-going tug as they sailed close to UK territorial waters on Saturday.

The boats were located by the Plymouth-based Type 23 frigate as they sailed through the North Sea towards the Dover Strait on Friday morning.

Royal Navy sailors on the ship, based in Plymouth, Devon, kept watch on every movement of the ships using state-of-the-art radars to track their course and speed.

HMS Sutherland was designed to deal with the Soviet submarine threat but now acts as a high-readiness unit.

It can be called upon for escort duties, marine search and rescue or to conduct counter-terrorism operations.

Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon said on Saturday: "The Royal Navy maintains a vigilant watch and is always ready to keep Britain safe."

The RAF and Navy have been scrambled several times over the past six months to escort Russian aircraft and ships near the UK.

In January, HMS St Albans escorted Russian carrier Admiral Kuznetsov, battlecruiser Petr Velikiy and a tug as they passed close to UK territorial waters.

HMS Sutherland encountered the frigate Yaroslav Mudry at the entrance to the English Channel in December and monitored the vessel as it sailed through UK waters.

And in October, Russian vessels including the Admiral Kuznetsov were shadowed by the Navy as they headed towards the eastern Mediterranean via the Dover Strait.

Commander Andrew Canale, commanding officer of HMS Sutherland, described the role of escorting warships that approach the UK as "routine business".

"It is vitally important the Royal Navy demonstrates its presence and commitment to the integrity of UK territorial waters as we work around the clock to secure the seas of our island nation," he said.

The task comes at a time of heightened tension with Russia, with Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and his French counterpart, Jean-Marc Ayrault, criticising the country for vetoing a UN Security Council resolution on Syria.

They accused Moscow and Tehran of covering up details of Bashar Assad's chemical weapons use.

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