Russian warships seen acting unusually off Irish coast

Questions have been raised about the navy's intentions off the southern Irish coastline

The Russian cruiser 'Marshal Ustinov', which is one of at least three warships seen sailing along the southern Irish coast. EPA / Russian Defence Ministry
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Russian warships have been seen acting unusually off the south coast of Ireland.

Large cruise missile ship, the Marshal Ustinov, is one of at least three Russian navy ships that have been travelling back from the Mediterranean to their home port in the north of Russia.

It was one of the ships involved in planned live-fire exercises in Irish-controlled waters in February.

The Ustinov has been on operations around the Mediterranean supporting Russia's war efforts in Ukraine since its sister ship the Moskva was sunk in April.

The ships were seen off the south-east coast of Ireland on Tuesday, inside the Irish Exclusive Economic Zone but outside Irish territorial waters.

They were travelling north with the apparent intention of sailing up through the Irish Sea.

Shortly before 8am the ships turned around and sailed back the way they had come, raising questions about their intentions. The ships are being shadowed by the Royal Navy frigate HMS Lancaster.

The Ustinov was one of several ships involved in planned naval exercises off the coast of County Cork in February, which were widely regarded as a provocation to the West before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Initially the exercises, which involved the firing of missiles, were to be held inside the Irish zone and raised concerns because of their closeness to underwater communications cables.

After protests from the Irish government, Russia eventually agreed to move the exercises farther into the Atlantic and out of the Irish zone.

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Under international law, Russia is allowed to sail through the Irish Sea as long as it remains outside Irish and UK territorial waters, which extend about 22 kilometres off each country’s coast.

It is a highly unusual route for Russia naval ships and the manoeuvres are likely to cause concern among Irish and British defence officials given the tense international situation.

In the past it has been more usual for Russian naval vessels travelling to their northern ports to take the western route around Ireland or travel east through the English Channel.

The Ustinov is not visible on publicly available resources but its presence is indicated by the fuel ship Vyazma, which accompanies the vessel.

The Vice-Admiral Kulakov, a Russian destroyer, is also believed to be with the ships.

This month, another Russian ship was seen acting unusually off the Irish south coast.

The Akademik Pashin, a naval oil tanker, was seen leaving the English Channel on August 17 and unexpectedly sailing west along Ireland’s south coast, coming within 140 kilometres at times.

Defence sources suggest it was probably supporting other Russian ships in the area.

Updated: August 31, 2022, 12:26 AM