The ongoing crisis between Russia, Ukraine and the West has spilled over to a surprising new place – just off the coast of Ireland.
Sunday evening, Ireland expressed its concerns on the expected arrival of a Russian naval group which will appear near its southwest coast for military exercises in February. Foreign Secretary Simon Coveney confirmed the drills will take place, but criticized their timing given heightened feelings of tension in Europe as fears grow over a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine in the coming weeks .
“Under international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, states have the right to conduct naval exercises in another state’s EEZ,” Coveney said in a statement, referring to the Irish Sea Exclusive Economic Zone.
“In light of the current political and security environment in Europe, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has raised a number of concerns with the Russian authorities regarding these exercises. We will continue these discussions in the coming days,” he concluded.
Ireland is not a member of NATO and is officially a neutral country in its foreign policy, although it is a member of the European Union (EU) which has threatened sanctions against Russia if it launches an invasion in Ukraine. as feared. Coveney is due to travel to Brussels on Monday for a meeting related to the situation. The Minister said he would inform his European counterparts about the Russian drills off the coast of Ireland.
The Irish Aviation Authority has announced that it will redirect civilian flights away from this area as part of a safety protocol. Ireland’s concerns about the drills themselves have also been raised with Russia’s Ambassador to Ireland, Yury Filatov.
irish politicians reacted to the news of the Russian naval exercises with a mixture of concerns. In a remark to the Irish Times, former soldier and independent politician Cathal Berry said they were meant to be provocative given their proximity international flight paths and submarine cables. Berry added that it was a “warning” from Moscow to Dublin that the latter was “militarily weak”.
Opposition Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald has expressed concern about Ireland’s ability to monitor Russian activities. She also called Russia’s military buildup near Ukraine “extremely worrying” and said Ukraine’s territorial integrity must be respected.