The Royal Navy is thought to have sent a warship to shadow at least one Russian naval vessel off the coast of Scotland after it sailed near the Moray Firth while on exercise in the North Sea.
The Baltic Fleet vessel is believed to be a warship and was part of an operation being carried out in the area, according to a statement from the Scottish National Party.
It was described by a source as a ‘Russian Task Group’, suggesting more than one ship may have been involved.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) would not comment on the incident or on whether the Russians had entered British territorial waters, although it was thought to be unlikely.
A spokeswoman said the MoD would not comment on operational matters.
However, The News understands HMS Defender sailed from Portsmouth last week.
It follows a similar incident in December 2011 when several ships from the Baltic Fleet arrived 30 miles off the Moray Firth, including the huge aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov, the anti-submarine warfare ship Admiral Chabanenko and escort the Yaroslav Mudryy.
The Russian military news agency Interfax-AVN reported at the time that the fleet was on route to Syria and took shelter in the Moray Firth when faced with deteriorating weather conditions.
However, some commentators believe that the country is testing Britain’s response times to such an incursion.
The 2011 incident was the first time a vessel the size of the 65,000-tonne Kuznetsov had deployed near UK waters and the closest a Russian task force had sailed to the UK in two decades, according to the minutes of a parliamentary debate on the subject this month.
That incident also saw ships allegedly dumping food waste into the water, which although allowed when more than 12 miles offshore, was described by one local MP as ‘fly-tipping’ and ‘bad manners’.
The SNP has been critical of the scrapping of the Nimrod fleet, leaving the UK with no dedicated maritime patrol aircraft. The party also highlighted the fact that there are no warships based in Scotland to respond to such an incident.