Naval Service monitoring transit of Russian warships through Irish-controlled waters

Vessels, believed to be en route to live-fire exercise, shadowed by US and UK

The Naval Service is monitoring two Russian warships which have entered Irish-controlled waters.

The ships are also being shadowed by the UK and US navy and are believed to be on their way to live-fire exercises just outside the Irish Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

The exercises were previously scheduled to take place within the Irish EEZ but over the weekend Russia announced that, "as a gesture of good will", it would relocate the drills.

They are now expected to take place at a location in the Atlantic just outside the EEZ.

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On Monday, the French navy shadowed two Russian frigates as they passed through the English Channel into the Irish EEZ. The French patrol vessel the Commander Blaison then handed over the operation to the Royal Navy frigate HMS Argyll and the US navy destroyer USS Roosevelt which were operating in the area.

"I can confirm that the Irish Defence Forces are monitoring the situation," a Defence Forces spokeswoman said on Tuesday.

However it is not known if a Naval Service ship has been deployed to the area. The Defence Forces said it does not comment on specific operational deployments.

The Russian ships, the Soobrazitelniy and the Stoykiy, left the port of Baltiysk in the Kaliningrad Oblast on January 25th for a "long-distance campaign", the Russia navy said. This was to include anti-submarine and anti-air exercises".

The current location of the vessels is unknown but they are believed to be currently travelling west through the Irish EEZ, off the coast of Cork.

Another Russian ship, the fuel tanker Vyazma is currently sailing through the English Channel. It is believed to be sailing with at least two other accompanying warships ahead of rendezvousing with the rest of the ships at the exercise location.

The Vyazma is being shadowed by RAF Poseidon surveillance aircraft. These aircraft have increased their activity around the Irish EEZ in recent days. The RAF has said they are taking part in routine training.

This EEZ is considered international waters but under the control of Ireland for economic and environmental purposes.

Military experts believe the Russian drills will now take place in an area in the Atlantic just outside the Irish EEZ but still in the vicinity of vital subsea communications cables which link Europe to north America.

British aircraft are expected to drop sonar buoys in the areas where it is believed Russian ships are going to operate. These devices, dropped into the water from above, use active sonar capable of picking up submarine activity. They have also been shown to be damaging to marine life such as dolphins and whales.

Russia's ambassador to Ireland, Yuriy Filatov, has accepted an invitation to appear before the Oireachtas foreign affairs committee on Wednesday to discuss the naval exercises.

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime Correspondent of The Irish Times