Britain has deployed warships on Thursday to monitor a Russian aircraft carrier group including the flagship aircraft carrier the Admiral Kuznetsov as they sail through the North Sea and the English Channel reportedly en route to Syria’s coast to join Bashar al-Assad’s bombing campaign in the Syrian city of Aleppo
The UK Ministry of Defense says that they are closely monitoring the ships, which left Russia on October 15.
The eight-strong flotilla, led by the Admiral Kuznetsov, has completed training its pilots for bombing missions.
The frigate HMS Richmond escorted and monitored the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov and its group in the Norwegian Sea north of the U.K. between Iceland and Norway. The Type 45 destroyer HMS Duncan sailed from Portsmouth to monitor the group as they head south toward the North Sea.
A third Royal Navy vessel, the air defense destroyer HMS Dragon, is due to sail from the British port of Portsmouth Friday to intercept two Russian corvettes traveling north toward the UK from the direction of Portugal.
A Norwegian navy frigate has also been following the Russian flotilla.
“It’s a clear and military signal that Russia is back on the international stage,” said Peter Roberts, a senior research fellow for sea power and maritime studies at the Royal United Services Institute, ABC News reported.
“They are deploying all of the Northern Fleet and much of the Baltic Fleet in the largest surface deployment since the end of the Cold War,” a senior NATO diplomat told the Telegraph. “This is not a friendly port call. In two weeks, we will see a crescendo of air attacks on Aleppo as part of Russia’s strategy to declare victory there.”
In a statement, the Russian Navy said the ships were on a voyage “to ensure naval presence in the important areas of the World Ocean. Special focus will be made on safeguarding security of maritime traffic and other types of Russian maritime economic activity and also responding to new kinds of modern threats such as piracy and international terrorism.”
“When these ships near our waters we will man-mark them every step of the way,” Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said Wednesday. “We will be watching as part of our steadfast commitment to keep Britain safe.”
Prime Minister Theresa May condemned the Russian decision to deploy the aircraft carrier.
“We must show that robust and united European stance in the face of Russian aggression,” she said upon her arrival in Brussels at an EU summit. “The UK has put Russian actions in Syria on the agenda for this summit – we must continue to work together and it’s vital that we work together to continue to put pressure on Russia to stop its appalling atrocities, its sickening atrocities in Syria.”
The Russian naval deployment will increase Russia’s firepower in Syria, where it has conducted an air campaign in support of President Bashar Assad’s regime. Last week, Assad’s troops, backed by Russian warplanes conducted an offensive on Aleepo, causing international outrage.