HMS Tyne trails four Russian vessels passing between Britain and France, after Paris refuses to hand over a helicopter carrier.

The three River-class patrol vessels of the Fishery Protection Squadron, HMS Mersey, HMS Severn and HMS Tyne (foreground)

Russian naval vessels have staged a drill in the English Channel, according to a state news agency.

RIA Novosti reported that the Northern Fleet squadron, lead by the anti-submarine ship Severomorsk, had passed through the Straits of Dover after a week of exercises in the North Sea.

They were watched by the patrol ship HMS Tyne and complied with all orders as the stayed clear of British territorial water.

“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,” the Ministry of Defence said.

The four ships – which also include a landing craft, a rescue tugboat and a tank ship – have now moved into neutral waters at Seine Bay as they wait for a storm to pass.

“While it is anchored the crew are undertaking a series of exercises on how to tackle … infiltrating submarine forces and are training on survival techniques in the case of flooding or fire,” RIA quoted the Northern Fleet as saying.

The Russian task force announced it was off the northern coast of France just days after President Francois Hollande said he would not hand over a helicopter carrier being built for the Russian Navy.

France had been under pressure from allies for months to scrap the €1.2bn (£950m) contract because of Russia’s actions in Ukraine, which have resulted in tough economic sanctions being imposed on Moscow.

A Russian crew was already aboard the first of the two French-made ships, to be named Vladivostok, in Saint-Nazaire to begin the process of familiarisation.

Construction of the second vessel, to be named after the Crimean port city of Sevastopol, is understood to remain on track.

Russia has threatened it could sue if the vessels are not delivered.

France’s navy confirmed the location of the Russian ships in the Channel.

“They are not holding exercises. They’re just waiting in a zone where they can be several times a year,” the naval information service said.

In May, the Royal Navy deployed a destroyer to track a large Russian task force – including the country’s only aircraft carrier – that was moving through the Channel.

Although Russian naval vessels frequently use the waters between Britain and France, the presence of the Northern Fleet and the announcement of its manoeuvres, highlights the tensions between the West and Russia.

Earlier this month, NATO said its member nations had scrambled aircraft 400 times this year to respond to a 50% increase in Russian military activity.

Moscow was also suspected of being behind a mysterious vessel, thought to be a submarine, which was spotted in waters off Sweden in October.