June 29, 2017 / 8:44 AM / in 24 days

Russian military hits back over UK defence minister Fallon's jibe

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MOSCOW, June 29 (Reuters) - Russia's defence ministry snapped back on Thursday over comments by British Secretary of Defence Michael Fallon who mocked Moscow's aircraft-carrying cruiser and said the Russians would look with envy on Britain's new warship.

Fallon's comment exposed his "utter ignorance of naval science," ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said, and dismissed Britain's HMS Queen Elizabeth carrier as "a convenient oversized target at sea".

"When you saw that old, dilapidated Kuznetsov sailing through the Channel a few months ago, I think the Russians will have looked at this ship with a little bit of envy," British media quoted Fallon as saying this week.

Fallon was referring to Russia's Soviet-era Admiral Kuznetsov and comparing it to HMS Queen Elizabeth, Britain's most advanced and biggest warship which set out on its maiden voyage from its dock in Scotland on Monday.

"These ecstatic statements ... about the supremacy of the beautiful exterior of the new aircraft carrier over the Russian aircraft-carrying cruiser Admiral Kuznetsov expose Fallon's utter ignorance of naval science," Konashenkov said in a statement.

Fallon unnerved Russia's military in January by dubbing the mammoth Russian cruiser "a ship of shame" as it passed through waters close to the English coast on its way back from bombing raids in Syria.

"The British aircraft carrier is just a convenient oversized target at sea," Konashenkov said. In contrast, Kuznetsov is armed with air defence and anti-submarine weapons, as well as with anti-ship Granit missiles, he added.

"For that reason, it is in the interests of the British royal navy not to show off the 'beauty' of its aircraft carrier on the high seas any closer than a few hundred miles to its Russian 'distant relative'," he said.

Kuznetsov underwent its first sea trials in 1989 and was commissioned in 1991.

As Russia is striving to promote a more assertive foreign policy amid chilly ties with the West, it is also re-arming its army and the navy.

Some experts at home and abroad say however that the Cold war-era Kuznetsov is absolete and Russia needs a new generation of aircraft carriers. (Reporting by Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

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