Russian warships enter Gibraltar waters for ‘combat training’ days after Royal Navy intercepted them in the English Channel

The missile cruiser Marshal Ustinov and anti-submarine destroyer Severomorsk sailed past the British territory on the way to the Mediterranean Sea at the weekend.

The vessels, which are part of Vladimir Putin's Northern Fleet, will reportedly bolster the Russian Navy's operations supporting Syrian president Bashar al-Assad in the civil war.

During the voyage in the Atlantic, the warships carried out "planned combat training", according to Russian news agency TASS.

A Northern Fleet spokesperson said in a statement: "The group of warships comprising the missile cruiser Marshal Ustinov and the large anti-submarine warfare ship Severomorsk, performing long-distance voyage tasks, completed its passage through the narrowest part of the Strait of Gibraltar and entered the Mediterranean Sea on Saturday."

Crews on board the Marshal Ustinov practised checking the team's readiness to employ weapons and technical capabilities, while those on Severomorsk carried out warfare tasks using a Kamov Ka-27 helicopter, the agency reported.

It comes days after the Royal Navy scrambled to intercept the ships as they sailed past Britain.

Nuclear submarine Orel and advanced frigate Admiral Gorshokov had previously been with the fleet as it passed Denmark but it is not known if these two vessels were in the English Channel.

A Ministry of Defence spokesman last week said: "Type 45 destroyer HMS Diamond shadowed two Russian warships overnight as they passed through the English Channel.

"The Portsmouth-based ship sailed from Dover to monitor the Russian destroyer Severomorsk and cruiser Marshal Ustinov as they passed through the UK’s area of interest.

"HMS Diamond has spent the last month undertaking various duties around the UK as one of the Royal Navy’s high readiness escort ships.

"She is at 24 hours’ notice to react to any incident or tasking in or around British waters."

Russian warships are regularly spotted in the English Channel but are intercepted and escorted through the waters by the British navy without incident.

The move though comes at a time of heightened tensions between Moscow and London over the Novichok poisonings in Salisbury, Wiltshire.

Britain is poised to demand that Russia hands over two suspects they believe were behind the Salisbury Novichok attacks.

Re-opening the furious row over the failed poisonings, the Government will ask Moscow extradite two Russians who left one dead and three injured in the nerve agent attack earlier this year.

Tensions are also strained as the UK is continuing to squeeze Russia by refusing to issue visas for new diplomats arriving in London.

The Kremlin’s ambassador to the UK has complained that his embassy is being “suffocated” as he can’t bring in new staff to replace departing ones.

At the beginning of June the Russian spy ship Yantar was met by a Royal Navy Type 45 Destroyer as it approached the UK.

While in April the Russian frigate Yaroslav Mudry was closely watched by HMS St Albans as it made its way through the English Channel and Dover Strait.

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