Russian military exercises off Irish coast ‘not welcome’

Russia is entitled to hold navy exercises off Irish coast but authorities say it is not wanted at this time

Warships in a joint exercise for the Iranian, Chinese and Russian navies in the northern Indian Ocean on January 19. Reuters

Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney has said that plans by Russia to hold navy military exercises off the coast of Ireland are “not welcome”.

The artillery drills at the start of February will take place in international waters, but within Ireland's airspace and exclusive economic zone.

Mr Coveney said the exercises are to take place 240 kilometres off the Irish south-west coast.

He is expected to brief the Cabinet on the developments on Tuesday.

In compliance with legal requirements, Russia informed Ireland’s aviation authorities of the planned exercises in advance.

The Irish Aviation Authority insisted there would be no effect on the safety of civil aircraft operations.

Mr Coveney said Ireland did not have the power to stop the military exercises.

“I have made it clear to the Russian ambassador in Ireland that it’s not welcome," he said before a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels.

“This is not a time to increase military activity and tension in the context of what is happening with and in Ukraine at the moment.

“It’s important that I brief my colleagues on those intentions.

“Russia, under international law, can take military exercises in international waters, but the fact they are choosing to do it on the west borders of the EU, off the Irish coast, is something that is in our view not welcome and not wanted right now, particularly in the coming weeks.”

Deputy Prime Minister Leo Varadkar later echoed Mr Coveney’s comments and said the Cabinet would discuss the issue on Tuesday.

“In relation to the situation with regard to Russia, I’ve been briefed on that by Minister Coveney,” Mr Varadkar said.

“While the Russian military can, within the law, carry out these exercises off our waters and in our economic zone, they’re certainly unwelcome. That has been communicated to the authorities.”

Mr Coveney said the meeting in Brussels would discuss the tension on the Russian-Ukrainian border.

“This is an important day today for EU foreign ministers to reinforce a message of unity from the European Union in relation to Russian-Ukrainian tension,” he said.

“There are two very clear messages that EU foreign ministers will want to get across today.

“First of all, a clear message and ask of Russia to defuse tension in the context of their activities on the borders of Ukraine, and give reassurance to the rest of the world in terms of their intentions.

“Second, a strong message of unity from the EU that should Russia decide to invade Ukraine militarily, that there would be very severe consequences from an EU perspective in terms of sanctions and restrictions that would follow very quickly, that I think would be the most comprehensive that the EU has put together in many decades.

“A message and appeal to use diplomatic means to defuse tension, but also a very strong and clear and unified message that the EU respond collectively and in a unified manner in a way that would introduce very significant measures in response to Russian military action in Ukraine.”

But the Russian ambassador to Ireland, Yury Filatov, said Moscow's plans to hold the navy exercises off the coast of Ireland were a “non-story”.

At the Russian embassy on Monday, Mr Filatov played down the significance of the exercises after the concerns were raised by the Irish government.

“It has been hugely overblown," he said. "These exercises are part of the yearly plan of naval activity for 2022."

Mr Filatov said the exercises were not a threat to Ireland or anyone.

“No harm is intended and no problem is expected," he said. "All that has been communicated to our colleagues at the Department of Foreign Affairs of Ireland."

Mr Filatov said the real story “lies elsewhere”.

“It looks like the topic of exercises fits in the ongoing propaganda campaign waged by the US and its Nato allies to create an illusion of a Russian threat to Ukraine," he said.

“I think we all witness a daily drumbeat emanating primarily from Washington and London, other Nato capitals, about imminent invasion of Ukraine by Russia.

“I will say once again, it is a fake."

Updated: January 25, 2022, 12:30 AM