Three Russian warships are shadowed by the Royal Navy in the Channel amid deepening crisis in Ukraine

A FLEET of Russian warships has been shadowed by the Royal Navy in the Channel amid mounting fears war could erupt in Europe in a matter of weeks.

By Tom Cotterill
Saturday, 22nd January 2022, 10:22 am
Updated Saturday, 22nd January 2022, 2:17 pm

Portsmouth-based warships HMS Dragon and HMS Tyne followed the trio of Russian assault vessels as they entered the North Sea and sailed off the southern coast.

The ships’ arrival comes amid growing fears that Russian forces are preparing to invade Ukraine, with some 120,000 troops already massed on the country's border.

The Royal Navy ships took over from the Dutch Navy and have since passed on the baton of shadowing the Russian vessels to France’s Marine Nationale.

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HMS Tyne was scrambled to shadow three Russian warships through the Channel

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The Ministry of Defence last night sought to play down the Russian’s transit through the Channel, insisting the operation was a routine one.

An MoD spokesman told The News: ‘As part of a unified response with our allies, the Royal Navy are monitoring the presence of Russian ships as they transit through the English Channel.

‘This is a normal response to transiting warships from other nations.’

HMS Dragon returned to Portsmouth on Friday having been one of two Royal Navy vessels sent to follow a trio of Russian warships through the Channel

Russian war drills announced

The trio of Russian warships’ trip followed an announcement by Moscow’s Ministry of Defence that Vladimir Putin plans to hold naval drills in the Atlantic, Arctic, Mediterranean and Pacific this month.

Over the coming weeks, war games with Putin’s ally, Belarus, will include displays by more than 140 warships and support vessels.

The exercise will also feature 60 aircraft, 1,000 pieces of military equipment and around 10,000 servicemen, the defence ministry said.

Defence secretary Ben Wallace who has said Allies must 'prepare for the worst' in crunch diplomatic talks with Russia as he vowed that Britain would 'stand up to bullies' amid fears of an invasion into Ukraine.

It comes amid growing fears of war in Ukraine, with Moscow having massed more than 100,000 troops on the country’s border, along with tanks, missile batteries and armoured vehicles.

New evidence that emerged yesterday suggested troops are massing within striking distance of Kiev, The Sun reported.

Forces are in Belarus less than 20 miles from Ukraine's frontier, after a surge in troop and equipment movements in recent days from Russia's far east.

Invasion of Ukraine ‘imminent’

Tobias Ellwood, chairman of the commons defence committee, believes a Russian invasion of Ukraine could be ‘imminent’.

‘Putin is taking full advantage of a weakened West. We are looking risk-averse, somewhat timid,’ he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

‘Putin’s ultimatum demanding Nato push back, of course that was dismissed but that’s given him the pretext to say that there is an aggressor and that he must act.

‘We see these combat-ready troop formations. He has actually boxed himself into a corner because so much effort has been put into this.

‘He also recognises that he will never again be as strong as this to take advantage of the West’s weakness. I suspect that an invasion is now imminent.’

Peace talk meetings with top defence chiefs

The Russian defence minister has accepted an invitation to meet with UK defence secretary Ben Wallace.

Mr Wallace extended an invitation to his Russian counterpart, Sergei Shoigu, to visit London to discuss mutual security earlier this week.

Mr Shoigu has offered to meet in Moscow instead, given the last bilateral defence talks between the countries took place in London.

A senior defence source told PA news agency said: ‘The defence secretary is glad that Russia has accepted the invitation to talk with his counterpart.

‘Given the last defence bilateral between our two countries took place in London in 2013, Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu has offered to meet in Moscow instead.

‘The secretary of state has been clear that he will explore all avenues to achieve stability and a resolution to the Ukraine crisis. We are in communication with the Russian government.’

It comes after Downing Street warned Russia would be ‘punished’ if the country pushes ahead with any ‘destabilising action’ in Ukraine.

Earlier this week, Britain's armed forces flew some 2,000 anti-tank weapons to Ukraine.

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