Robert HARNEIS -TDO- (FRANCE)- The British patrol ships HMS Tyne and Mersey have recently monitored seven Russian Federation Navy vessels as they sailed through the Channel. 

HMS Mersey met up with the Russian frigate Admiral Kasatonov, the support tug Nikolay Chiker and the tanker Vyazma off Ushant, France and stayed with them through the Channel and into the North Sea. Her monitoring mission was made more challenging by rough weather conditions, which meant the Russian ships took longer than usual to pass through as they took shelter before resuming their journey.

Earlier, Mersey worked with HMS Tyne to keep watch on four Russian vessels sailing through the Channel towards the Atlantic. Three Ropucha-class tank landing ships - the Minsk, Kaliningrad and Korolev - and the frigate Boiky were spotted in the North Sea, and Mersey and Tyne closely followed them throughout their transit of the Channel. Several allied NATO vessels and aircraft contributed to the monitoring mission. 

The movement of Russian landing craft is of heightened interest to NATO amidst rising tensions with Russia over its troop buildup on the Ukrainian border. Two other Ropuchkas - identified by civilian monitors as the Alexander Otrakovsky and the Kondopoga - recently sailed through the Bosporus to the Black Sea, where Russia has partially closed off waters near Crimea and the Kerch Strait.

Russia is concentrating increased naval forces in the Black Sea during rising tension with Ukraine and the United States. Ships have transited the canal linking the Caspian and the inland waterways linking the Baltic with the Black Sea.

Whilst Russia is concerned about any possible Ukrainian attack on the Donbass breakaway areas, there is also concern in Moscow over the security of the Transnistria region of Moldavia, garrisoned by Russian peace keeping troops since a 1992 ceasefire agreement.

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