THE SNP has called on the Ministry of Defence to clarify whether or not the pre-Christmas Russian naval visit off the Scottish coast included several vessels from the Admiral Kuznetsov naval task force.

With no conventional Royal Navy surface vessels based in or on operations around Scotland, the ministry deployed a Fleet Ready Escort vessel from Portsmouth, over 600 miles away, to escort the Russian vessels from British waters.

The Nationalists have pointed out that if it were confirmed the Russian vessels were part of an Admiral Kuznetsov task force, then it would be the second time in two years that the Navy has had to conduct such an escort duty so close to Scotland.

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Russian TV reports have shown film of the Admiral Kuznetsov apparently being refuelled off Scotland. Captain Vadim Serga, spokesman for the Russian Northern Fleet's, said a deployed naval group had included "the heavy aircraft-carrying cruiser Soviet Union Fleet Admiral Kuznetsov, the large anti-submarine ship Admiral Levchenko, the large assault ship Olenegorsky Gornyak, as well as support vessels such as the rescue towboat Nikolai Chiker and the tankers Sergei Osipov and Kama".

Angus Robertson, the SNP leader at Westminster, said: "We welcome friends from Russia and elsewhere but it is intolerable that there are no UK conventional naval vessels or maritime patrol aircraft in Scotland to perform basic escort duties.

"This is not the first time that a vessel has had to be scrambled from the south coast of England to steam for 24 hours at high speed for 600 miles to fulfil necessary escort tasks."