State Papers1992-2002

State Papers: Ireland feared being drawn into Estonia-Russia IRA arms ‘disinformation’ row

Estonia urged Irish government to publicly reject Russian claims but officials advised against ‘saying anything’

Ireland pushed back against being drawn into a row between Russia and Estonia over allegations the Baltic state was involving in supplying Soviet arms to the IRA, newly disclosed files show.

Declassified files from the Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin reveal Estonia gave a confidential briefing to the Irish authorities in 1996 to assure them there was no state support for arms supplies to the IRA – and to ask Dublin to issue a statement to that effect.

Estonia blamed Moscow for fabricating the claims – Russia under its president, Vladimir Putin, has a long record of disinformation campaigns in former Soviet states. In this case, the original story was in Russia’s TASS news agency, crediting FSB (former KGB) sources for the IRA-Estonian arms connection.

Sniper rifles

Published on May 6th, 1996, it claimed the IRA was securing former Soviet arms including high-powered sniper rifles, heavy machine guns and explosives from Estonia. Russia claimed the IRA was securing the weapons via the extremist Estonian group Kajtselite, which it directly linked to Estonian intelligence.


The Department of Foreign Affairs noted the story on May 7th and Ireland’s ambassador to Russia, Ronan Murphy, was briefed on the matter. Mr Murphy wrote to Colm O’Floinn of the Department of Foreign Affairs Anglo-Irish Division on May 8th to say he had been personally approached by the Estonian ambassador to Russia over the arms supply claims.

“The ambassador said that he is calling a press conference to refute the suggestion that the Estonia authorities had anything to do with supplying arms to the IRA,” he wrote.

“He said that it was true that arms smuggling was a problem in Estonia but the government was trying to tackle the problem…

Press conference

“The ambassador said he would send me material which he will use for his press conference. He said that it would be helpful if the Irish government were to confirm that we do not believe that the Estonian authorities are involved in supplying arms to the IRA.”

Irish officials noted in correspondence that they were cautious about such an approach. They said, if Estonia was serious about such an Irish statement, the approach would have come directly from Tallinn or more likely from Helsinki.

“A factor to take into account, even if we were in a position to say something, is that we would be publicly involving ourselves in a row between Estonia and Russia at a time when the temperature in these countries’ relations is already high.”

A handwritten note to the final report was a recommendation that Ireland “avoid saying anything” in respect of the row.

Brian Hutton

Brian Hutton is a freelance journalist and Irish Times contributor