22 Oct, 2016
The Admiral Kuznetsov, a Soviet-era aircraft carrier that can carry more than 50 planes, crossed international waters in the North Sea with seven other vessels on Friday.
Locals and media gathered in Dover to watch the fleet pass by into the channel.
The vessels are also being very closely watched. The British Ministry of Defence said it had dispatched Royal Navy ships to escort the vessels.
The British warship HMS Richmond escorted the group from the Norwegian Sea as it went south, and the HMS Duncan, a Type 45 destroyer, sailed from Portsmouth on Tuesday to “man-mark” it.
“It’s being marked every step of the way by the Royal Navy and ships and planes of other Nato members as well,” Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said in a statement.
Jens Stoltenberg, NATO’s secretary general, said the Russian navy “is free to operate” in international waters.
“Russia, of course, has the right to operate in international waters and this is not the first time we’ve seen this carrier group being deployed in the Mediterranean,” he said.
The Admiral Kuznetsov was commissioned in 1990 and is presently Russia’s only aircraft carrier. Manned by a crew of 1,960, it has Granit anti-ship cruise missiles as well as Blade and Chestnut gun systems in its arsenal.
A Downing Street spokesman dismissed the idea that Moscow regarded Britain as weak.
“I would reject suggestions that the Russians feel we are too weak. Clearly, we are not weak at all,” he said.
— RT (@RT_com) October 21, 2016
Russia’s TASS news agency quotes the Russia’s defense minister, Sergei Shoigu, as saying the warships are making their tour to bolster the “combat capabilities” of the country’s Mediterranean fleet.
“Special focus will be made on safeguarding the security of maritime traffic and other types of maritime economic activity of Russia and also on responding to the new kinds of modern threats such as piracy and international terrorism.”
The Russian Navy has not said if it intends to use the ships for any specific battle missions in the Middle East. The group will “ensure a naval presence in operationally significant areas of the world’s oceans,” the Russian Navy said in an official press release.
‘Illegal & provocative’: US destroyer sails through contested waters amid Chinese warnings
The guided-missile destroyer sailed through waters claimed by China on Friday, closely passing by the contested Paracel Islands which are de facto under Chinese control. The Chinese Defense Ministry has decried the American incursion as “illegal” and “provocative,” but US officials have denied any wrongdoing, stating that America was exercising its rights to sail through international waters.
“This operation demonstrated that coastal states may not unlawfully restrict the navigation rights, freedoms and lawful uses of the sea that the United States and all states are entitled to exercise under international law,” Reuters quoted White House spokesman Josh Earnest as saying at a news briefing.In the last three freedom-of-navigation operations conducted in the region over the last year, US Navy ships have gone within the 12-mile radius to challenge Chinese territorial claims described by the US and its allies as “excessive.”
According to the Chinese Defense Ministry, the USS Decatur was approached by at least two Chinese vessels as it passed by the islands, which reportedly warned it to leave. But US officials said the voyage passed without incident and denied that the ship was escorted.
“USS Decatur (DDG 73) conducted this transit in a routine, lawful manner without ship escorts and without incident on Oct. 21,” Defense Department spokesman Cmdr. Gary Ross told the Navy Times. “The United States conducts these routine operations on a regular basis around the world, in full compliance with international law.”
There is a Chinese military presence on the archipelago concentrated around Woody Island, where China maintains a runway and an arsenal of surface-to-air missiles. Although it is also contested by Taiwan and Vietnam, China has had de facto control of the Paracel Islands since 1974, when it routed Vietnamese forces from the area. The United States and its local allies, which until recently included the Philippines, have a keen interest in undermining the Chinese influence in the region. Despite Chinese protests the US government plans to continue sending ships on freedom-of-navigation operations, and indeed the Obama administration has been criticized in Congress for not authorizing them often enough.