MOSCOW — A squadron of Russian warships entered the English Channel on Friday to hold exercises, the state-owned news agency reported, the latest apparent show of military might since ties with the West plunged to Cold War lows over the strife in Ukraine.
Russian wire service RIA quoted the Northern Fleet as saying its vessels, led by anti-submarine ship Severomorsk, had passed through the Strait of Dover and were holding in international waters in the Seine Bay to 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 in a statement.
But a NATO official and France’s navy denied that the Russian crews were holding exercises or that there was even any cause for concern —although they did not deny their presence. “They’re just waiting in a zone where they can be several times a year," said the French Navy's information service.
Lieutenant-Colonel Jay Janzen, NATO's military spokesman, also waved off concerns. “Our information indicates that the ships are transiting and have been delayed by weather conditions. They are not exercising in the Channel, as some Russian headlines would have us believe," he said. Britain’s ministry of defense noted on their Twitter page that four Russian ships had been escorted through the Dover Strait, but did not specify why the ships had been there.
The Russian maneuvers follow months of increasing tensions over Ukraine, where Moscow earlier this year seized and annexed the Crimean Peninsula and has supported armed separatists opposed to the Kiev government.
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