The Irish Times view on the Russian military threat: gunboat diplomacy

Sabre-rattling Russian naval exercises off Ireland are part of the psychological ratcheting up by Moscow and western powers of a deadly game of chicken

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney with Belgium’s foreign minister Sophie Wilmes during a meeting of EU foreign ministers at the European Council building in Brussels on Monday. European Union foreign ministers are aiming to show a fresh display of resolve and unity in support of Ukraine. Photograph: Virginia Mayo/ AP

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney with Belgium’s foreign minister Sophie Wilmes during a meeting of EU foreign ministers at the European Council building in Brussels on Monday. European Union foreign ministers are aiming to show a fresh display of resolve and unity in support of Ukraine. Photograph: Virginia Mayo/ AP

 

The weekend news that Russia is planning live-fire naval exercises off the southwest coast of Ireland has brought a salutary reminder to this country that Ukraine is much closer – geopolitically at least – than we might have liked to believe. And that, like it or not, the security of Europe is indivisible.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney, brought the “unwelcome” exercises in Ireland’s exclusive economic zone to the attention of fellow European Union foreign ministers on Monday during their debate on the rising tensions over Russia’s encirclement of Ukraine.

That now involves some 125,000 troops, including new deployments in Belarus and more naval assets off the coast. Sabre-rattling Russian naval exercises off Ireland, classic gunboat diplomacy, are part of the psychological ratcheting up by Moscow and western powers of a deadly game of chicken.

Nato said it was putting forces on standby and reinforcing eastern Europe with more ships and fighters, while the United States let it be known it is considering redeploying more troops there. Mindful of criticism that it took too long to evacuate citizens and allies ahead of the takeover of Kabul, the US on Monday announced the repatriation of diplomats’ families from Kyiv, but the effect was again to add to tensions.

Fears of the likelihood of a Russian invasion, whether a partial incursion into the Donbass region, or a full-blooded assault on Kyiv from Belarus, were also fuelled over the weekend by the British Foreign Office. It claimed intelligence sources had identified a former Ukrainian MP Yevhen Murayev as the stooge who would lead a proxy government.

He denied the claim: “You’ve made my evening... It isn’t very logical. I’m banned from Russia. Not only that but money from my father’s firm there has been confiscated.”

To some ears, the denial had all the conviction of a KGB officer claiming he was visiting Salisbury because of interest in its cathedral. Establishing a pliant local government was the standard modus operandi of Soviet invasions to give plausibility to claims of intervention to stem an external threat. The EU ministers were joined by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken by videolink to reassure them that the EU is not being sidelined by western allies.

In truth, although the union will not contribute militarily to the deterrence of the Russian threat, it remains crucial to the economic sanctions with which invasion would be met.

“There’s no doubt we are ready to react with comprehensive, never-seen-before sanctions if Russia were to invade Ukraine again,” Danish foreign minister Jeppe Kofod warned. Sanctions in which Ireland will necessarily and willingly participate.

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