Tim Ripley

April 18, 2021

The Sunday Times


Royal Navy warships will sail for the Black Sea next month as tensions continue to rise between Ukrainian and Russian forces.

Putting the ships off the coast of Ukraine is intended to show solidarity with Kyiv and Nato allies in the region after President Biden decided to cancel the deployment of two American warships to the Black Sea last week for fear of escalating the crisis over the massing of Russian troops.

One Type 45 destroyer armed with anti-aircraft missiles and an anti-submarine Type 23 frigate will peel off from the Royal Navy’s carrier task group in the Mediterranean and head through the Bosphorus into the Black Sea, according to senior naval sources.

RAF F-35B Lightning stealth jets and Merlin submarine-hunting helicopters are to stand ready on the task group’s flag ship, the carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth, to support the warships in the Black Sea should they be threatened by Russian warships, submarines or aircraft. HMS Queen Elizabeth has to stay in the Mediterranean because an international treaty prohibits aircraft carriers from entering the Black Sea.

The Royal Navy announced in February, before the current crisis, that the carrier’s supporting warships and aircraft would carry out the missions into the Black Sea as part of HMS Queen Elizabeth’s deployment to the Far East. The Ministry of Defence confirmed on Friday that the naval foray would go ahead despite the US decision to keep its warships out of the crisis zone.

“Operational planning continues and this still includes the Black Sea activity,” said a senior defence source. “The US decision will have no bearing on Carrier Strike Group’s 2021 plans.”

This apparent divergence between London and Washington follows the admission on Friday by General Sir Nick Carter, chief of defence staff, that the British government disagreed with Biden’s decision to withdraw all US and Nato troops from Afghanistan by September.

Tension has been rising since Moscow ordered a troop build-up near Ukraine’s eastern border late last month. Russian and Ukrainian gunboats were involved in a stand-off near the Crimean coast on Thursday.

RAF RC-135 Rivet Joint eavesdropping aircraft have flown eight missions over Ukraine to monitor Russian military communications since the start of the month. Four RAF Typhoon fighter jets will fly to Romania from RAF Lossiemouth this week to take part in Nato air policing patrols over the Black Sea, and hundreds of soldiers will head to Ukraine in the summer for a joint exercise, dubbed Cossack Mace, with the country’s border guard paramilitary force.

An MoD spokesman said: “The UK and our international allies are unwavering in our support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. We are working closely with Ukraine to monitor the current situation and continue to call on Russia to de-escalate.

Our armed forces continue to support Ukraine through our training mission Operation Orbital, which has trained over 20,000 members of the armed forces of Ukraine, and the UK-led Maritime Training Initiative.”