Defence Forces monitoring Russian warships acting unusually off Irish south coast

Cruise missile ship the Marshal Ustinov among at least three Russian navy ships spotted sailing north through the Irish Sea before turning back

The Defence Forces is monitoring a group of Russia warships which have been spotted acting unusually off the south of the country.

The Marshal Ustinov, a large cruise missile ship, is one of a group of at least three Russian navy ships which 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, whose sister ship the Moskva was sunk in April, has been on operations around the Mediterranean since then, supporting Russia’s war effort in Ukraine.

On Tuesday, the ships were spotted off the southeast coast of Ireland, within the Irish Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) but outside Irish territorial waters. They were travelling north with the apparent intention of sailing up through the Irish Sea.


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

In a statement, the Defence Forces said it was aware of the activity and was “monitoring the situation”.

“However, Óglaigh na hÉireann does not comment on specific operational deployments,” it added.

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

The exercises, which involved the firing of missiles, were to be held in the Irish EEZ and raised concerns due to their proximity to underwater communications cables.

Russia eventually agreed to move the exercises further into the Atlantic and out of the EEZ following protests from the Irish Government.

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

However, 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.

Earlier this month, another Russian ship was observed acting unusually off the Irish south coast. The Akademik Pashin, a naval oil tanker, was spotted leaving the English Channel on August 17th and unexpectedly sailing west along Ireland’s south coast, coming within 140km at times. Defence sources suggest it was likely supporting other Russian ships in the area.

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime and Security Correspondent of The Irish Times