Ireland has raised concerns with Russia over controversial naval exercises planned for next month within the State's exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
The Irish Aviation Authority has said it has been made aware that a Russian military drill will take place in international waters 240km off the southwest coast, amid concerns that the drill will include a so-called 'live fire' exercise.
In a statement on Sunday evening Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney confirmed "Russian naval exercises are due to take place in early February... within Ireland's exclusive economic zone but not in Ireland's territorial waters.
“Under international law, including the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, states are entitled to carry out naval exercises in another states’ EEZ. The Irish Aviation Authority was informed of the exercise via standard procedures and has issued a statement to that effect.
“In light of the current political and security environment in Europe, the Department of Foreign Affairs has raised a number of concerns with the Russian authorities in respect of these exercises. We will continue these discussions in the coming days.”
Mr Coveney added that EU foreign ministers will meet on Monday in Brussels where he expects "discussions to be dominated by the security situation in Europe, with a particular focus on Russia and Ukraine".
He said he plans to inform his EU colleagues about the planned Russian naval exercises and “reiterate our full support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and will call again on Russia to de-escalate tensions” and engage in constructive dialogue.
Mr Coveney said as “a precautionary measure”, and in line with many other EU states, the Government is now recommending Irish citizens avoid non-essential travel to the Ukraine. “We continue to recommend that Irish citizens living in or travelling to Ukraine register with the Embassy of Ireland in Kyiv,”he added.
A notice to air traffic control from the IAA stated that "pursuant to International Civil Aviation Organization annexs 11,15 and for safety of air traffic in the area you are kindly requested to issue international notam [a notice to airmen] to temporarily close above area for flights from surface to 11,000 metres".
Russian ambassador to Ireland Yury Filatov and Defence Forces Chief of Staff Lt Gen Seán Clancy met on Friday to discuss armed contacts between the two countries. The meeting took place at the Russian Embassy on Orwell Road, Dublin.
“Parties discussed the issues of Russia-Ireland relations and international agenda, as well as prospects of contacts between [the] armed forces of [the] two countries,” the embassy said on Twitter on Friday.
In response, the Department of Defence said the meeting was a "routine courtesy call".
“As the recently appointed Chief of Staff, it is normal for foreign ambassadors to pay routine courtesy calls. This is one of a series of meetings. Such meetings are a matter for the chief of staff, not the minister. There is no ongoing military cooperation with Russia and there is no intention to do so.”
Independent TD Cathal Berry said he believed the meeting has to do with a proposed naval exercise that the Russian navy intends to undertake in February. Independent TD Cathal Berry said he believed the meeting has to do with a proposed naval exercise that the Russian navy intends to undertake in February.
Dr Berry, a former army ranger, said the live firing exercise, while being legal, is a “warning to Ireland that we are militarily weak”.
He believed it was designed as an international provocation as it is close to flight paths and underwater submarine cables.
Regarding the planned Russia military exercises, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said there was a “very worrying gap” in Ireland’s defences as the State has no primary radar system.
“Despite this being known certainly since 2015 when there was a white paper published, precious little has been done,” she said. “As I understand it no law is being broken by this exercise but we have to be very concerned that we don’t have adequate surveillance at this time.”
Responding to recent comments from Taoiseach Micheál Martin that Sinn Féin is a pro-Putin party, Ms McDonald told RTÉ’s This Week that the build-up of Russian troops on the Ukraine border is “extremely worrying”.
“I believe the answer to this point of conflict is not through war and conflict, it is through politics. We absolutely respect and everyone must respect the integrity of Ukranian territory,” she said, adding that her party has “zero tolerance… for any form of bullying, coercion or threats particularly by larger and very powerful states against their smaller neighbours.”