A flotilla of Russian warships led by a large submarine hunting ship entered the English Channel on Friday in what naval officials said were preparations for a regular series of exercises.
Russia’s Northern Fleet said in a statement released to the RIA Novosti government news agency that its four vessels were led by the Severomorsk destroyer and the Alexander Otrakovsky amphibious landing ship.
It said the detachment had passed through the narrowest part of the channel between England and France at Pas-de-Calais and would begin a series of planned manuevers shortly.
The quoted statement said a storm had forced the detachment to take temporary shelter at the Bay of the River Seine off the northwestern coast of France.
“During its stay, the ships’ crew will perform a series of manuevers aimed at combating underwater vessels and technology,” the news agency quoted the Russian statement as saying.
Both British and French officials told AFP that such Russian naval detachments visit the region on a nearly-annual basis and that they usually do not extend their stay beyond a few days.
But a NATO spokesman said the ships “are not exercising in the channel, as some Russian headlines would have us believe.”
“Our information indicates that the ships are transiting and have been delayed by weather conditions,” NATO spokesman Jay Janzen told AFP.
The Russian flotillas’ presence nonetheless threatens to escalate tensions that are already at post-Cold War high due to Russia’s intervention in ex-Soviet Ukraine.