HMS Prince of Wales: Royal Navy takes command in Portsmouth
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Captain Steve Higham told how “our families and friends know we are absolutely on the frontline” as the carrier prepares to set sail tomorrow. The Royal Navy has taken charge of NATO’s Maritime High Readiness Force ‑ with the HMS Prince of Wales becoming the flagship for the next 12 months.
It will sail for the Atlantic, northern Europe and Mediterranean, considered “traditional hunting grounds” for the military alliance.
Fears of war in Ukraine are intensifying as Russian troops continue to mass on the border.
The Kremlin has denied its plans to invade Ukraine but has made repeated threats of military action alongside demands for assurances that NATO will not expand east.
The US and NATO have ruled out Moscow’s top demand for a ban on Nato enlargement.
American diplomats told the Russians during talks in Geneva on Monday that any invasion would be met with “significant cost and consequences well beyond what they faced in 2014” when Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine.
Captain Steve Higham, the commanding officer of HMS Prince of Wales, admitted Russia is a “key threat”.
He said: “We do not underestimate the challenge. We don’t underestimate the challenge posed by state threats.
“Our hopes and prayers are with the teams working on the diplomatic front, to try and de-escalate to provide some sort of solution to the challenges being posed in Eastern Europe.”
Captain Higham added: “All our friends and families know that we are, yes, absolutely on the frontline.
“The likelihood of being involved in an operation is as high as it has ever been. We need to be ready. The whole point of this aircraft being in the state of readiness is for it to be available.”
Russia has warned that it would walk away from diplomatic efforts to end the crisis over Ukraine if the West continues to ignore the Kremlin’s demands.
Moscow has taken an increasingly belligerent approach to Ukraine, engaging in misinformation campaigns, threatening to invade and making unacceptable demands which would give them greater power over their neighbours.
Russia will hold talks with Nato in Brussels on Wednesday and with the 57-member Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe on Thursday in Vienna.
Russia’s deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov said that the Kremlin “cannot retreat” from its demand for a promise that “Ukraine and Georgia will never, ever become members of Nato”.
To mark Britain, and the HMS Prince of Wales, taking command of the Maritime High Readiness Force ‑ an international task group formed to deal with major global events, the NATO flag was raised aboard the carrier during a ceremony.
Fleet Commander, Vice Admiral Andrew Burns, supported by Captain Steve Higham, Prince of Wales’ Commanding Officer, inspected some of the ship’s company before addressing them.
Captain Higham said: “We’re going to operate as the flagship for 2022 and that will see us operating in the Euro-Atlantic area working with partners, colleagues and allies across the NATO alliance, operating with ships, submarines and really excitingly drones.”
Rear Admiral Mike Utley said: “NATO is the cornerstone of the UK defence and our commitment to the alliance is absolute and it is a privilege to be the UK Maritime Component Commander moving into our vital role this year.
“The Royal Navy is global, modern, ready and well placed to support NATO in all its endeavours.”
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