The Mistral-class assault warship Vladivostok at the entrance of the western French port of Saint-Nazaire 21 November 2014

A squadron of Russian warships has passed through the English Channel in what the Royal Navy described as a “routine” movement.

Nato dismissed reports by Russian media saying the flotilla was there to conduct military exercises.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) said that the ships had been escorted out of UK waters by Royal Navy warship HMS Tyne.

Nato has reported increased incursions by Russian military vehicles following months of tension over Ukraine.

Analysis: By Jonathan Beale, BBC News

It’s a sign of the times. When the Russian military are on the move, alarm bells ring. This year there have already been three times as many intercepts of Russian warplanes flying near the airspace of Nato countries compared with 2013.

But the UK Royal Navy and the French Navy say “it’s not unusual” to have Russian warships transiting through the Channel. It’s the route they often choose to make their way to the Mediterranean. The Royal Navy was aware of this transit and sent HMS Tyne to monitor.

The Royal Navy has a frigate or destroyer on standby to respond at short notice, what’s called the Fleet Response Escort (FRE). In this instance it says the smaller Ocean Patrol Vessel was the right ship for the job.

In a statement released to the Russian news agency RIA Novosti, the Russian Northern Fleet said that its vessels were led by the Severomorsk destroyer and were anchored in French waters waiting for a storm to pass.

The fleet is now north of the Normandy coast.


“While it is anchored the crew will perform a series of exercises on combating infiltrating submarine forces,” it said.

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,” spokesman Jay Janzen told the AFP news agency.

An MoD spokesman said “We are aware that four Russian naval ships have passed through the Dover Strait from the North Sea into the English Channel, which all ships have the right to do under international law.”

Earlier in November, Nato’s top military commander said that recent incursions into European airspace by Russian fighters and long-range bombers included larger, more complex formations of aircraft flying more “provocative” routes than usual.

General Philip Breedlove said that incursions were fairly common and safely handled.