Tensions between Russia and the UK and its Western allies are still on edge after Wednesday's major Black Sea incident which saw a Russian warship fire warning shots and a warplane drop bombs in the path of the Royal Navy's HMS Defender. The Kremlin said it chased the British vessel from its territorial waters near Crimea, which resulted in a major diplomatic crisis and for which London expressed "surprise" in terms of the speed of escalation.
Setting the stage for perhaps another incident, on Friday the Russian military initiated large-scale exercises in the Mediterranean Sea, specifically in the same eastern vicinity where a British carrier strike group is reported to be. Russia's Defense Ministry released Friday footage of the drills in action, likely in part as a "warning" to UK assets in the region...
According to Al Jazeera, "The Russian drills that began on Friday in the Eastern Mediterranean come as a British carrier strike group is in the area." Both US and UK military assets are said to be in the region, the report continues: "Earlier this week, British and US F-35 fighters from HMS Queen Elizabeth flew combat sorties against the ISIL (ISIS) group."
What's more is that for the first time ever Russia is deploying advanced jets which are outfitted to carry hypersonic missiles, as Moscow Times details based on Russian Defense Ministry statements:
Russia has for the first time deployed two interceptor jets capable of carrying the hyped Kinzhal hypersonic missile for war games in Syria, media reported Friday.
"A pair of MiG-31K aircraft with the ability to use the latest hypersonic missiles from the Kinzhal complex flew from Russian airfields to the Russian airbase Khmeimim in Syria for exercises," Russia’s Defense Ministry said as quoted by Interfax.
Russia's Syrian coastal Hemeimeem airbase saw the arrival of the pair of Russian MiG-31K Foxhound jet fighters armed with the Kinzhal hypersonic missiles Friday.
Nuclear-capable Tu-22 bombers are also part of the operations, and as The Drive explains it's meant to signal overwhelming firepower to any rivals in the area:
Put together, the Tu-22M3s and MiG-31Ks with the warships and submarines of the Black Sea Fleet now reportedly in the eastern Mediterranean represent a very capable anti-shipping force, capable of launching a range of hypersonic, supersonic, and subsonic anti-ship missiles. In a combat scenario, these would be used in combination in an attempt to overwhelm the air defenses of a carrier group, for example.
Given this and the latest Black Sea crisis and "close call" situation, there's little doubt that UK and US ships are on high alert as Russia conducts its Syria-related exercises.
UK defense officials in Wednesday's aftermath expressed a 'wake-up call' moment of sorts, according to The Guardian, "British officials acknowledged they were taken by surprise by the speed of the Russian reaction to HMS Defender’s 36-minute passage through Crimean waters on Wednesday as the British ambassador to Moscow was summoned to the Kremlin."
It's very likely that UK commanders could be at the ready looking for some level of 'payback' and score settling over the humiliation, again making current Mediterranean maneuvers all the riskier for rival parties in the region.
Norfolk based, Arleigh Burke class guided missile destroyer, an element of the Eisenhower Strike Group #MightyIke, departs the BlackSea and transits Bosphorus towards Mediterranean after conducting #maritimesecurity ops in the region with @NATO allies & partners #StrongerTogether pic.twitter.com/J8Sq2QERAO— Yörük Işık (@YorukIsik) June 25, 2021