Russians should demonstrate ‘goodwill’ and call off naval exercises, says Varadkar

Tánaiste advises fishermen planning protest against Russian navy not to be ‘naive’

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said Russia should call off its plans for military exercises off the Irish coast saying it would "demonstrate goodwill" that they want to de-escalate tensions at a time of concern over a potential war in Ukraine.

The Fine Gael leader also said fishermen planning a protest against the naval exercises not to be "naïve" about the potential risk.

Mr Varadkar said he does not think the military exercises are aimed at Ireland but that "it might well be a show of strength towards Britain and France".

He said: "It's certainly unwelcome. And the Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has communicated that very clearly to the Russian ambassador. The Russians are not breaking any law because it's happening in international waters but it's happening very close to our coast."

It was put to Mr Varadkar on RTÉ Radio's Today with Claire Byrne Show that the Russian Ambassador to Ireland Yury Filatov had called the concern over the exercises "overblown".

Mr Varadkar said the argument that the Russians would make is that they do these exercises in international waters every year “and that this is just a coincidence.

“But whether it’s a coincidence or not, at a time of increasing tensions, at a time of real concern around a possible war between Ukraine and Russia we think that they should call them off and that that would demonstrate goodwill, that the Russians do want to de-escalate these tensions.”

Fishing boats

Irish fishing boats plan to peacefully disrupt the Russian operation next month.

Patrick Murphy, chief executive of the Irish South and West Fish Producers Organisation, said that the area in which the naval operation is to take place was very important for fishing and that they wanted to protect biodiversity and marine life.

Mr Varadkar said he respects the right to peaceful protest but reminded the fishermen military vessels will be involved in a live fire exercise.

“By all means, go ahead with the protests. . . if you feel that’s necessary, but please be careful”.

Ms Byrne quoted the Russian ambassador as saying the fishermen’s plans are reckless and could put fishermen and sailors in harm’s way. She asked Mr Varadkar if this could be interpreted as a threat.

Mr Varadkar said: “I didn’t hear what he had to say in full or in context. But from the section you’ve read out to me it sounds a little menacing. . . But you know, I don’t think the Russians are going to want to create an incident involving civilian vessels, either.

“But like I say, I’d caution the fishermen to take care.”

It was put to him that the fishermen have said this amounted to the Government not supporting them and being a “jellyfish with no backbone”.

Mr Varadkar said: "No, I think it's good advice. You know, this is the Russian Navy. This is a major military power with nuclear weapons, with submarines. Let's not be naïve about that."