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Russian warships enter British territory, later threaten again

The Soviet Slava Class Guided Missile Cruiser MARSHAL USTINOV begins a five-day goodwill visit to Naval Base, Norfolk, Virginia, marking the first time that ships of the Russian Navy visited an American military port. (PH1 Jeff Elliot/Department of Defense)
August 14, 2018

Russia is under scrutiny after two warships were spotted undertaking suspicious activity.

Just days after the British Royal Navy intercepted Russian warships in the English Channel, the warships were spotted in Gibraltar waters where they were carrying out “planned combat training,” according to a report by The Sun on Tuesday.

The ships traveled past British territory to the eastern Mediterranean Sea over the weekend, where they will join the Russian Navy operations aiding Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the country’s civil war.

The ships performed readiness drills on deploying weapons, technical operations and warfare tasks involving a Kamov Ka-27 helicopter.

They were identified as missile cruiser Marshal Ustinov and anti-sub destroyer Severomorsk, part of Russia’s Northern Fleet.

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“The group of warships comprising the missile cruiser Marshal Ustinov and the large anti-submarine warfare ship Severomorsk, performing long-distance voyage tasks, completed its passage through the narrowest part of the Strait of Gibraltar and entered the Mediterranean Sea on Saturday,” said a spokesperson for the Northern Fleet.

Last week, a British destroyer sailed through the Royal Channel to monitor the two Russian warships.

“Type 45 destroyer HMS Diamond shadowed two Russian warships overnight as they passed through the English Channel,” said a spokesperson for the Ministry of Defense.

“The Portsmouth-based ship sailed from Dover to monitor the Russian destroyer Severomorsk and cruiser Marshal Ustinov as they passed through the U.K.’s area of interest,” the spokesperson added.

The HMS Diamond is said to be “one of the Royal Navy’s high-readiness escort ships” and is “at 24 hours’ notice to react to any incident or tasking in or around British waters.”

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It’s a common occurrence for Russian warships to travel through the English Channel with the escort of the Royal Navy. In June, Russian spy ship Yantar was escorted by a Royal Navy destroyer, and in April, Russian frigate Yaroslav Mudry was also monitored by another destroyer.

However, tensions between the U.K. and Russia are high.

Russia is accused of harboring suspects responsible for the Salisbury Novichok poisoning attacks, which used a nerve agent to kill one and injure three. It was deemed an attempted assassination on ex-Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, who both survived after severe injuries.

Russia denies involvement in the attack, while the U.K. is said to issue demands to Russia to extradite the two suspects, The Sun reported.

In retaliation, the U.K. is delaying visas for diplomats who arrive in London. Russian ambassador Alexander Yakovenko complained that Russia’s mission is “suffocated” because, without visas, staff leaving the Russian Embassy can’t be replaced. Yakovenko said the visa process for Russian officials is taking as long as 18 months.