The converted fishing trawlers are allegedly positioned off the British coast, which Lord West of Spithead claims is part of a general increase in Russian espionage activities, according to RT.com. Lord West claims that Vladimir Putin has ordered acts of “provocation” after NATO aircraft spotted the spy trawlers in the international waters of the North Sea.
Russian espionage increasing
Lord West is a former First Sea Lord, and he claims that the tactic harks back to the dark days of the Cold War, and the spy trawlers are designed to gather intelligence on British nuclear missiles and warships.
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“It was quite a tense business during the Cold War and now it is winding up again and it is very worrying. They seem to have… increased espionage, which raises tension,” he said.
It appears that Moscow has deployed an entire fleet of the spy trawlers which, despite their innocent appearance, are equipped with surveillance technology and listening devices.
Moscow’s reaction to NATO exercises
The entire Russian Northern Fleet has been mobilized to full combat readiness, with President Vladimir Putin flexing his military muscles with the deployment of 45,000 troops, over 56 warships and submarines and 110 aircraft in training missions across Russia, as well as in the Barents Sea.
British Prime Minister David Cameron recently announced that Britain and 11 NATO allies would be carrying out military exercises in order to send a signal to Moscow, aimed at dampening Russia’s increasingly aggressive behavior. The planned NATO military exercises off Scotland will be dwarfed in comparison to Russia’s; the Joint Warrior exercise will feature just 12,000 military personnel.
Although the government claimed that the exercise would show the world the power of NATO, it will involve 58 warships and submarines, 50 aircraft and 3,000 land forces. Lord West claims that the Russian mobilization “is clearly a knee jerk reaction to the fact we are about to do that exercise… and it raises escalation.” Rapid mobilization is something that West says Russian “conventional forces were incapable of… a few years ago and that has changed.”
Commentators have long voiced their concerns over Putin’s volatile behavior, and Lord West is also worried the he “is very unpredictable and is not obeying the norms of international order.”
“Russia has nuclear weapons and they believe they can be used for war fighting and that is hugely dangerous and means we are just a step away from the destruction of the globe.”
The spy trawlers are thought to be listening in on RAF Lossiemouth and Coningsby, among other targets. The ships are known as Auxiliary Intelligence Gathering ships (AGIs), and have a range of up to 200 miles. They are thought to be eavesdropping on the Royal Air Force and before alerting Russian pilots as to when the Typhoon fighters are taking off.
Russian Bear bombers have been flying close to UK airspace with increasing frequency, and it is thought that the spy trawlers are working in tandem with them. “It would appear from our intelligence that they are working in support of Soviet bombers which have been seen off the east coast and as far south as Cornwall and simply record our reaction to these events,” said a senior military source.
Russia has previously attempted to spy on amphibious war games, and at least one vessel has been noticed off the west coast of Scotland, the site of the major NATO exercise next month. Fears have arisen of a planned attack against the UK following increased Russian espionage activity. In the 1980s the effectiveness of AGIs was reduced by jamming their listening field, but today’s versions have been updated and are far more capable.
The mobilization could also be a response to a NATO exercise in the Black Sea, which is too close for comfort for Russia. Moscow feels threatened by NATO’s eastward expansion, which has removed the buffer between the alliance and Russia. The current cat-and-mouse maneuvering is being played out against the backdrop of international tension over the conflict in Ukraine, and relations between Russia and the West have deteriorated to their worst point since the end of the Cold War.
Russian Deputy Defense Minister claims that Russia is being victimized. “Instead of uniting forces to fight evil, the worst of which is terrorism, Western nations are drawing new divisive lines, trying to realize containment schemes against unwelcome states. Today, Russia has been chosen as the target,” he said.
It would appear that the unpredictability of Putin has pushed the Western allies into a corner, and it will take a real leap of faith to break the cycle of escalation.