Russia’s Northern Fleet navy vessels were sent to the English Channel Tuesday in order to carry out anti-aircraft and anti-submarine defense drills in the northeastern Atlantic close to Britain’s waters.
A Northern Fleet spokesman said a squadron led by the Udaloy class destroyer Severomorsk anti-submarine ship would cross into the Atlantic after having participated in drills in the Bay of Biscay.
However, the spokesman did not confirm reports in Russia's Interfax news agency quoting Russian Defence Ministry officials about military exercises in the English Channel.
Britain’s Defense Ministry later confirmed three Russian ships were being monitored by the Royal Navy's Type 23 frigate HMS Argyll as they passed 20 miles within the English coast.
“As part of her routine business as the Royal Navy's Fleet Ready Escort, HMS Argyll has tracked and monitored three Russian ships making their way east through the English Channel. No exercises have been observed,” a British Defense Ministry spokesman said.
Royal Navy sources quoted in The Telegraph said the ship will continue to tail the Russian fleet - with an advanced Artisan radar, Lynx helicopter, and sensors - through the North Sea until it leaves Scotland.
“The indications are that they are returning home. They may well just want to tease us a little by having a look at the exercise,” one source told the newspaper.
“We will have to see what they do when they get up there. If they are outside territorial waters they are really within their rights to do whatever they want.”
The Russian warship is expected to travel past the ‘Exercise Joint Warrior’ drill taking place in the area involving 55 warships and 70 aircraft from 14 different countries,
Russia’s planned drill is a repeat of a similar drill that was reportedly held in November, which was also tracked by a Royal Navy patrol boat.
Russian military vessels and aircraft have been increasing their activity around the British isles as of late, as tensions remain at their highest since the Cold War over Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine last year.
A member of the NATO military bloc, the U.K. reported around 100 incidents in which they were forced to intercept Russian aircraft in 2014.
In February, British Typhoon jets were forced to intercept two Tu-95MS Russian Bear bombers as they flew by British airspace off the southern coast of Cornwall, just two weeks after a similar scare.
A day before the incident, British warship HMS Argyll tracked Russia’s Yaroslav Mudry warship as it sailed through the English Channel on its way back to Russia from the Mediterranean.
Former MI6 spy chief Sir John Sawers later warned Russia poses a danger to Britain, telling BBC Radio 4's Today program that although the Russian threat was not necessarily directly to the U.K., Russia keeps reminding the UK of its nuclear capabilities.
The ex-intelligence chief’s comments in early March came days after Britain promised to send 75 military advisers and trainers to help the Ukrainian army reduce its fatality rate against pro-Russian separatists in the country’s east.
According to plans, Britain will initially send 30 military personnel to advise Ukrainian forces on medical training, logistics, intelligence analysis and infantry training in Kiev and western Ukraine. The total number of trainers working in non-conflict zones in the country will later be raised to 75.