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Navy warship HMS Westminster escorts Russian vessels through English Channel

Latest incident in an ‘upsurge’ in Putin’s warships in British waters.

A Royal Navy warship has been tasked with escorting four Russian vessels through the English Channel, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has confirmed.

HMS Westminster, a Portsmouth-based Type 23 frigate, was scrambled to intercept two of Vladimir Putin’s warships and two supporting vessels as they passed close to UK waters.

The latest incident comes amid what the MoD called an “upsurge in Russian units transiting UK waters” during the festive season.

HMS St Albans spent Christmas Day escorting another Russian warship, the Admiral Gorshkov, through the North Sea.

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Royal Navy frigate HMS St Albans escorted another Russian warship through the North Sea on Christmas Day (Ministry of Defence/PA)

Commanding officer of HMS Westminster, Commander Simon Kelly, said the ship’s role as the Royal Navy’s Fleet Ready Escort is to be at “very high readiness” to respond to anything.

“While today most people are returning to work for the first time in the new year, HMS Westminster’s ship’s company has been at sea and at readiness as part of the Royal Navy’s commitment to keep Britain safe at all times,” he said.

“The English Channel is an absolute lifeline for the UK, and it is very important HMS Westminster and the Royal Navy maintains a watchful eye on this key strategic link.”

After being dispatched on Friday, HMS Westminster remained at sea before meeting up with the Russian ships.

The MoD said the ship had been keeping track of their activities in “areas of Britain’s national interest”, before escorting them through the English Channel on Monday.

It is believed the four Russian ships are returning to the Baltic after operations in the Middle East.

The UK warship will remain with the two Steregushchiy-class frigates Soobrazitelny and Boiky and support vessels Paradoks and Kola as they head north.

On Christmas Eve, HMS Tyne was called to escort a Russian intelligence-gathering ship through the North Sea and the English Channel.

A Wildcat helicopter from 815 Naval Air Squadron, based at RNAS Yeovilton, was then dispatched to monitor two further Russian vessels.

Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said in response to the Christmas scrambling of HMS St Albans that he would “not hesitate in defending our waters or tolerate any form of aggression”.

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