MOSCOW — Four Russian military ships sailed through the English Channel on Friday and dropped anchor alongside the coast of France, an occurrence that NATO called routine but still had resonance at a time of Cold War-level tensions between Russia and the West.
The four ships, led by the anti-submarine destroyer Severomorsk, planned to hold exercises “to combat underwater subversive forces” while at anchor, Russian state-run news agency RIA Novosti reported the Russian military as saying.
The ships had been passing through the English Channel when they decided to wait out poor weather by dropping anchor in the Bay of the Seine, according to RIA Novosti. The Northern Military District referred inquiries to the Russian Defense Ministry, which did not respond to requests for comment.
NATO said that it was tracking the ships but it did not view their activity as hostile.
“We see this as a routine movement on the part of the Russian navy. And they’re well within their rights to do so,” said Col. Jay Janzen, a spokesman for NATO’s military command. “It’s not as if they are doing some war-fighting maneuvers in the English Channel or something that could be considered hostile.”
The British Defense Ministry said its navy had sent a patrol vessel to escort the Russian ships as they passed through the channel, a routine measure when foreign navies pass through the strait. The Russian navy frequently uses the channel en route to the Mediterranean.
Russian defense movements in recent months have caused countries such as Finland to reconsider long-held decisions to sit out of NATO.
On Friday, the Russian navy test-fired an intercontinental ballistic missile from a submarine in the Barents Sea, according to the Associated Press. The warheads hit their targets in far eastern Russia, the Russian Defense Ministry said.
Last month, NATO reported unusually large movements of Russian fighter jets looping around Europe, including several airspace violations in the Baltics. This month, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Russia planned to increase bomber flights in the Gulf of Mexico. And Sweden conducted an extensive search for a submarine in its waters that local media said was believed to be Russian.