October 13, 2018

A One-size-fits-all Generic "Russian Navy vessel has crossed the English Channel" blog post

After the last Russian Navy ship that crossed the English Channel, I realized that I was sounding a lot like a broken record, so I figured I'd write a one-size-fits-all blog post regarding Russian (sometimes Russian Navy) ships crossing the English Channel, North or South-bound.

On any given day a Russian-flagged vessel, possibly Russian Navy, is about to, or has already, crossed the English Channel. It could be a research ship, tug, oiler, transport ship, cruiser, submarine, destroyer, corvette, AGI, or other. It might be armed, or unarmed. By policy, the Royal Navy will likely escort the ship through the channel, even though the Royal Navy and NATO have no indications they have any intention of launching a surprise attack on the UK. NATO ships frequently shadow Russian flotillas, but are not mentioned by the Royal Navy, and if the Royal Navy doesn't dispatch a vessel to shadow them, they will likely not mention it to the press unless asked.

This is based on my evidence-based observations; there are patterns that appear over time. I routinely see Twitter accounts portraying themselves as UK citizens saying "This isn't news! They do it all the time!" and I disagree. It's very much news, because they do it all the time.  The UK Ministry of Defence is not compelled to share all operations with the citizens of the UK, or the world, obviously, and it is my view they classify far more than they need. If there are year-to-year metrics published about Russian ships crossing the channel or Russian ships being intercepted while crossing the Channel, I haven't found them yet. All of these numbers and statistics are being used by the UK Secretary of Defence to justify increased defence spending. Without making the data available to scrutiny. We have no evidence to support claims of increased "Russian Navy" aggression around British waters, as has been claimed, and past statements have proven the Honourable Secretary of Defence tends to spin statistics in somewhat misleading ways.

The military's communication team is Public Affairs (PA), the PA's office is at least partially responsible for portraying the military in a favourable light. Their job is not primarily to keep the UK public informed of everything that is occurring in the British Armed Forces on a day-to-day basis. That doesn't mean they don't inform the people, but they are not unbiased, and everything they publish should be at least a little scrutinized to make sure something hasn't been missed.

I've previously spoken poorly of the British tabloid-press, but I have to hand it to the team at The Daily Star UK. While it would seem unlikely from to the paper's reputation for unbridled shameless sensationalism, they've been reporting very accurately on Russian ship movements through the channel. I know they're not the go-to name you think of when you think of Russian Navy analysis, but they're doing real journalism; talking to sources, consulting open source information - it's not all boobs and aliens (but don't worry, they still have those stories too)

But the Russians are in UK Waters!

Russian Navy vessels are infrequently in UK territorial waters, and only when they are they're crossing The English Channel, which they have every right to, so saying they are breaching some sort of territorial boundary is simply untrue. A repeated narrative you may have picked up on are these exclamations (I believe they're goaded on by statements from the British Defence Secretary); the Russians are comingThe Russians are "in British waters"The Russians could strike at any moment with the warships they have surrounding the British Isles.  These narratives are all twaddle. British territorial waters, like everyone's, extend 12 Nautical Miles out to sea. A Russian Navy vessel could drop anchor 30 nautical miles of the UK and there wouldn't be anything wrong with it.

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea clearly states that the Russians have every right to cross the English Channel, provided it's a peaceful transit, and the Royal Navy have every right to follow them as they do so, to make sure they don't do anything shifty.  Russian Navy vessels passing the UK on their way to deployments in the Atlantic or Mediterranean are commonplace, and not an indication of immanent hostilities. If you find someone spreading that disinformation, call them out on it. Why call them out? Not worth your time? Don't want to argue with someone?  I sure wish someone had been debunking pre-2016 US election rumours, rather than giving the lunatic fringe a soap box 24x7
(I'm looking at you Fox News)

I hope the news media pays closer attention to propaganda being pushed by the Russians, as well as Western/NATO governments, and demands facts from their defence departments, rather than taking vague statements at face value.