The Royal Navy is preparing to intercept and escort the fleet of up to eight warships as they pass close to Britain on their way to bomb rebel-held areas of Syria.
The choice of route has been described as “posturing” by a British naval source, and comes amid fraught relations between London and Moscow over ongoing Russian air strikes in Aleppo.
A maritime patrol aircraft deployed by Nato will also monitor the military fleet when they near the UK, which could be as early as next week.
A Royal Navy spokesperson told The Independent: “UK and Nato assets routinely monitor warships from other nations when they enter our area of interest and this will be no different.”
But a defence source speaking to The Times described the deployment of the Admiral Kuznetsov, Russia’s only aircraft carrier, as “significant”.
Navy admirals believe in this instance Vladimir Putin will use the voyage as an opportunity to demonstrate Russia’s military strength as the boats pass Britain, The Telegraph reported.
The carrier's aircraft is expected to launch flying drills off the British and French coasts, and the boats may stop north of Scotland to carry out practice exercises including bombing.
A former First Sea Lord on Friday told The Telegraph that Russian posturing risked inflaming tensions further.
Travelling via the English Channel is not typical for Russian boats headed for Syria. Instead, most come directly down the Bosphorus Strait, which connects the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea at the Turkish city of Istanbul.
But the Admiral Kuznetsov is believed to currently be moored in Severomorsk near Murmansk in the north-west of Russia, near Norway and Finland.
A naval source told The Telegraph: “It’s not catching us by surprise, we are working up what to do and we are all over it. The most likely thing is that they will go through the North Sea, down the Dover Strait and through the Channel.
“They might even stop off the North East coast to fly for a bit.”
But the source said it was also possible the Russian warships would split, with some going through the Irish Sea or down the West coast of Ireland, “to cause more trouble”.
The source said: “Even if it splits five ways and we can’t man mark them, it doesn’t matter, we have got this covered.”
Once in the Mediterranean, the Admiral Kuznetsov is expected to take up a position off the coast of Syria for four to five months. It could launch jets and helicopters to carry out more air strikes.
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