Russian drills off Irish coast ‘not welcome’, says Simon Coveney

Minister for Foreign Affairs meets EU counterparts Brussels amid Ukraine tensions

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney, speaking in Brussels, has said that he will raise the Government's concerns over Russian plans to conduct naval exercises 240 kilometres off of the Irish coast with fellow EU states. Video: EU Commission

 

Plans by Russia to hold navy military exercises off the coast of Ireland are “not welcome,” Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has said.

The artillery drills at the start of February will take place in international waters, but within Irish controlled airspace and Ireland’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

Mr Coveney said the exercises are to take place 240km off the Irish south-west coast.

In compliance with legal requirements, Russia informed Ireland’s aviation authorities of the planned activities in advance.

The Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) said there would be no impact to the safety of civil aircraft operations.

Mr Coveney said Ireland does not have the powers to prevent the exercises from happening.

Speaking before a meeting of EU foreign ministers, Mr Coveney said: “I have made it clear to the Russian ambassador in Ireland that it’s not welcome.

“This is not a time to increase military activity and tension in the context of what is happening with and in Ukraine at the moment.

“It’s important that I brief my colleagues on those intentions.

“Russia, under international law, can take military exercises in international waters, but the fact they are choosing to do it on the west borders of the EU, off the Irish coast, is something that is in our view not welcome and not wanted right now, particularly in the coming weeks.”

Mr Coveney is in Brussels for a scheduled meeting with other EU foreign ministers at which the ongoing tensions on the Russia/Ukraine border are being discussed.

“This is an important day today for EU foreign ministers to reinforce a message of unity from the European Union in relation to Russian/Ukraine tension,” Mr Coveney said.

“There are two very clear messages that EU foreign ministers will want to get across today.

“First of all, a clear message and ask of Russia to defuse tension in the context of their activities on the borders of Ukraine and give reassurance to the rest of the world in terms of their intentions.

“Secondly, a strong message of unity from the EU that should Russia decide to invade Ukraine militarily, that there would be very severe consequences of that action from an EU perspective in terms of sanction and restrictions that would follow very quickly, that I think would be the most comprehensive that the EU has put together in many decades.

“A message and appeal to use diplomatic means to defuse tension, but also a very strong and clear and unified message that the EU respond collectively and in a unified manner in a way that would introduce very significant measures in response to Russian military action in Ukraine.”

He added that Ireland, along with several EU states, had updated its travel advice for Ukraine.

“We are recommending that Irish citizens avoid non-essential travel to the country at this time,” he said

Meanwhile, Minister of State for European Affairs Thomas Byrne has said Ireland’s solidarity is with Ukraine and that this doesn’t affect neutrality.

He said: “We’re on the precipice of what’s potentially an extremely dangerous situation in Europe…

“The view is Russia is going to invade Ukraine. Our solidarity stands absolutely, firmly with Ukraine. We support any country, in the integrity of its own national territory.

“Ukraine wants to be democratic, it wants to set its own destiny. We support that. It shouldn’t be bullied by anybody. It will make its own decisions.

“What we want to make sure though is that diplomatic efforts are absolutely exhausted, that we can try to prevent war.”

He said Mr Coveney is in Brussels for talks with his European and US counterparts on the situation.

Speaking on LMFM Radio Mr Byrne also said: “I don’t think it affects our neutrality in any way to say that we support the Ukraine in this and that Russia shouldn’t be doing what it is doing, that every country should be allowed to set its own destiny.” – Additional reporting: PA