Large convoy of Russian warships travelling through English Channel

NATO officials believe the flotilla could be heading to bolster the bombing campaign in Aleppo

Large convoy of Russian warships travelling through English Channel

Picture by: Ivan Sekretarev / AP/Press Association Images

The British Royal Naval is keeping a close eye on a convoy of Russian warships as make their way down the English Channel.

The armed flotilla is believed to be heading for Syria to support Russia's military operations in the war-torn country.

British Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said the convoy is, “being marked every step of the way by the Royal Navy” with other NATO members also keeping tabs on the Russian movements.

"The Russian fleet that is now sailing from the North, presumably down into the Mediterranean, is clearly designed to test the alliance,” he said.

"It's clearly designed... to test our response, and any weaknesses in the alliance, and we must make sure we respond in due measure.

"That fleet will be marked, shadowed every inch of the way."

A spokesman for the British Ministry of Defence said the flotilla will be past Dover “in the next few hours” before moving on to their destination.

"We still don't know where that is and how they are going to get there, but everything so far has been exactly how we would have expected,” he said.

It is feared the powerful force could soon join in attacks on the besieged city of Aleppo in Syria where the UN Human Rights Chief, Zeid Raad Al Hussein, today warned that “crimes of historic proportions” are being perpetrated.

Almost 500 people have been killed and 2,000 injured since the government forces of Bashar al-Assad, backed by Russian air strikes, launched an assault on the east a month ago.

"The ancient city of Aleppo, a place of millennial civility and beauty, is today a slaughterhouse - a gruesome locus of pain and fear, where the lifeless bodies of small children are trapped under streets of rubble and pregnant women deliberately bombed," said Mr Zeid.

“Armed opposition groups continue to fire mortars and other projectiles into civilian neighbourhoods of western Aleppo, but indiscriminate air strikes across the eastern part of the city by government forces and their allies are responsible for the overwhelming majority of civilian casualties,” said

"These violations constitute war crimes and if knowingly committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against civilians, they constitute crimes against humanity."

Images of the Russian convoy, taken from a North Sea oil rig, show the fleet being shadowed by a NATO Hercules C-130.

A NATO official said: "Russia has the right to operate in international waters. There are plans in place for NATO navies to monitor the Russian ships as they head for the Mediterranean.

"At the same time, the deployment of the carrier group to the eastern Mediterranean does not inspire confidence that Russia is working towards a political solution to the conflict in Syria."