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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 18 June 2018

British warship shadows Russian navy vessel near national waters amid strained relations

UK defence secretary Gavin Williamson said he would 'not hesitate in defending our waters or tolerate any form of aggression'

Britain's defence minister Gavin Williamson said in a statement that he would “not hesitate in defending our waters or tolerate any form of aggression”. Toby Melville / Reuters
Britain's defence minister Gavin Williamson said in a statement that he would “not hesitate in defending our waters or tolerate any form of aggression”. Toby Melville / Reuters

A British navy frigate shadowed a Russian warship on Christmas Day as it passed close to UK territorial waters, the ministry of defence said on Tuesday, at a time of strained relations between London and Moscow.

HMS St Albans monitored the Russian frigate Admiral Gorshkov in the North Sea, "keeping track of its activity in areas of national interest", the ministry said.

The St Albans, a Type 23 frigate, was sent on Saturday to track the Russian vessel and would return to base in Portsmouth on Tuesday.

"I will not hesitate in defending our waters or tolerate any form of aggression," defence minister Gavin Williamson said after the incident.

"Britain will never be intimidated when it comes to protecting our country, our people, and our national interests."

The defence ministry said there had been a recent "upsurge in Russian units transiting UK waters".

It said the patrol vessel HMS Tyne also escorted "a Russian intelligence-gathering ship" through the North Sea and the Channel on Sunday.

A navy helicopter was sent to monitor two other Russian vessels.

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HMS St Albans was involved in escorting a Russian aircraft carrier and missile cruiser through the English Channel in January this year.

Relations between London and Moscow have been poor for years, with allegations of Russian interference in Britain's referendum on leaving the EU and Moscow's intervention in Syria on the side of the Damascus government straining tense ties.

British foreign minister Boris Johnson clashed with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Moscow last week as they sought to mend relations.

Russian news agency Tass said the Gorshkov was conducting sea trials prior to commissioning in 2018.