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RUSSIAN SHIP escort: How Royal Navy went from ‘rule the waves’ to penguin patrol

RUSSIAN SHIP escort: How Royal Navy went from ‘rule the waves’ to penguin patrol
The UK media made a big deal out of a Royal Navy patrol ship shadowing a Russian vessel returning home from a parade. As they pine for the days of ‘ruling the waves,’ Britain and her navy are shadows of their former selves.

The offshore patrol vessel HMS Forth had barely returned from its deployment in Gibraltar when it was ordered to scramble and shadow the Russian Navy patrol ship Vasily Bykov, as it sailed home to the Black Sea on Wednesday.

“I am proud of the ship’s company for rising to this additional challenge,” the Royal Navy quoted the ship’s executive officer, Lieutenant Samuel Fields, who noted it was “a particularly busy time” for the Forth.

British newspapers dutifully printed stories that basically rehashed the Navy press release, talking up the Forth’s mission as some kind of heroic defense of Britain from the ‘Russian menace.’ It was in the same tone that they’ve reported on RAF patrols over the Baltic Sea which have harassed Russian flights in international airspace nowhere near the UK. 

While this all sounds very much like “Rule Britannia, Britannia rule the waves” stuff of a century ago, the current reality is something else altogether. There is no menace, at least from Russia. The Bykov was peacefully transiting the Channel, returning home after taking part in Navy Day celebrations in Saint Petersburg. 

It’s just that the shortest waterway (which is still pretty long) from the Black Sea to St Petersburg happens to take you around Spain and Portugal and then through the channel that separates France from Britain.

While Britain once had a globe-spanning empire, carved out and maintained by the largest navy in the world, that empire has been long gone – and the Royal Navy isn’t what it used to be, either.

London talks a big game, boasting about joining the US patrol mission in the Persian Gulf, for example. The uncomfortable reality is that the Admiralty is down to thirteen frigates, six destroyers, a handful of smaller patrol ships like the Forth, and an expensive new aircraft carrier that presently lacks any aircraft, and will for the foreseeable future.

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The UK is facing a number of problems at home, made worse by the austerity policies pursued by a succession of governments, and it can’t even fully fund the navy’s existing budget. It is incongruous at best, under such circumstances, for Her Majesty’s Government to pursue global military ambitions like it’s 1919, rather than a century hence.

The Royal Navy has already been confronted with the uncomfortable reality that it simply doesn’t have enough ships to safely escort all the British tankers in the Persian Gulf. The frigate HMS Montrose and the destroyer HMS Duncan can only be in so many places at once. 

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This leaves the ships like the Forth having to dash from one leftover outpost of the old empire to another. According to the Royal Navy, later this year the patrol ship will be deployed to the Falkland Islands, off the coast of Argentina, where she will somehow “keep Britain safe” – presumably from penguins. At least there won’t be any big bad Russians around!

By Nebojsa Malic

Nebojsa Malic is a Serbian-American journalist and political commentator, working at RT since 2015

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