The Royal Navy and its NATO allies are working on plans to escort up to eight Russian warships through the English Channel as the Kremlin is accused of “posturing” with an overt show of sea power.
The Russian task force, including its navy’s only aircraft carrier the Admiral Kuznetsov, is en route to Syria where it is expected to bolster the country’s airstrike campaign against Syrian rebels.
On Tuesday, Moscow announced an immediate halt to raids by Russian and Syrian airforces on Aleppo as a gesture of “goodwill” and to enable the evacuation of civilians from rebel-held areas of the city.
Former British naval chief, Lord West of Spithead, told British newspaper The Telegraph that while the Russians are entitled to sail down the English Channel, and the ageing Admiral Kuznetsov is not fully operational, Russia’s “posturing” over Syria risks inflaming tensions.
“When people start posturing, things become dangerous. It all raises tensions and makes things more difficult, and that’s not a clever thing to do,” he was quoted as saying.
“I find Russia very worrying at the moment. Their economy is on a war footing.”
The show of force comes as Britain and the United States this week said they are considering new economic sanctions on the Syrian and Russian governments because of their conduct in war-ravaged Aleppo.
After a 10-nation meeting in London, US Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday said crimes against humanity were occurring daily in Syria.
Last week, flamboyant Russian politician Vladimir Zhironovsky – a close friend of Russian leader Vladimir Putin – warned of a nuclear war should Donald Trump not become US president.
“Relations between Russia and the United States can’t get any worse. The only way they can get worse is if a war starts,” Zhirinovsky told Reuters.
Shortly after, Mr Putin reportedly called on all foreign Russian diplomats, their families, as well as prominent countrymen abroad, to return home.
The Russian fleet is currently conducting live-fire exercises in the waters between Scotland and Norway, according to News Corp.
The Norwegian military said on Tuesday local time it had photographed the Russian fleet, which was shadowed off its coast as it headed south.
Norwegian army spokeswoman Major Elisabeth Eikeland told Agence France-Presse “the tone is good” with the Russian ships.
“It’s not every day that so many ships sail together off Norway,” she said.
It is unknown when the Russian fleet will sail past the UK, or whether it will use the English Channel, the Irish Sea or around the west of Ireland.
If it chooses to navigate the English Channel, it will likely pass just a mile off the British shore.
I calculate the Russian aircraftcarrier #AdmiralKuznetsov and her escort will pass Yorkshire at 10.00 this Thursday – Southbound.
— Military Matters (@militarymatters) October 18, 2016
The Admiral Kuznetsov carries either Sukhoi Su-33 or MiG 29 jets, as well as Kamov helicopters.