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A Russian military naval battleship of the country's Baltic Sea fleet.
high seas

Coveney: Russian military exercises 240km off Irish coast allowed but 'not welcome'

The Minister for Foreign Affairs plans to brief his EU counterparts on the planned Russian military exercises.

MINISTER FOR FOREIGN Affairs Simon Coveney has said that Russian missile tests in international waters off the Irish coast are “not welcome”. 

Speaking on his way into a meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels, Coveney said he had informed the Russian ambassador to Ireland that this was not the time for military exercises.

The Journal reported on Saturday that the Irish government has received a warning of a major exercise by the Russian navy and air force in the Atlantic off the south west coast planned for the first week of February.

The area concerned is a relatively small area of water that is approximately 240 kilometres off the Irish coast. The area is in international waters but is within Ireland’s Exclusive Economic Zone and is patrolled by Irish Naval ships and Air Corps Casa aircraft. 

Coveney said this morning that he will be briefing his EU counterparts on these planned Russian military exercises in the Atlantic. 

“That is in international waters but it is also part of the Exclusive Economic Zone of Ireland. And so we don’t have the power to prevent this happening,” he said. 

But certainly, I’ve made it clear to the Russian ambassador in Ireland, that it’s not welcome. This isn’t a time to increase military activity and tension in the context of what’s happening with and in Ukraine at the moment. And so I think it’s important that I would brief my colleagues on those intentions. 

Coveney added that while Russia had the right to undertake the planned exercises, the timing of the plans and the location is “not wanted”. 

Russia, under International Law of the Sea, can of course undertake military exercises in international water but the fact that they’re choosing to do it on the western borders of the EU, off the Irish coast, is something that in our view is simply not welcome and not wanted right now, particularly in the coming weeks. 

The Brussels meeting of EU foreign affairs ministers is expected to be dominated by the security situation in Ukraine in the context of the build up of Russian military on the country’s eastern border.  

The EU has said it is not following the decision of the United State and the UK to withdraw diplomats’ families from Ukraine.

The US’ top diplomat Secretary of State Antony Blinken will today brief the Foreign Affairs Council on his meetings with his Russian and Ukrainian counterparts in recent days.

The US is trying to marshal its allies to prepare an unprecedented package of sanctions for Moscow if its sends in its forces — and European Union members insist they could hit the Kremlin with “massive consequences” in days if needed.

Coveney said that if Russia was to invade Ukraine there would be “very severe consequences” for Moscow from the EU “in terms of sanctions and restrictions that would follow very quickly”.

PastedImage-68000 Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney in Brussels today. consilium.europa.eu consilium.europa.eu

Weapons

The United States, Britain and Baltic states have already agreed to send weapons, including anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles to Ukraine.

Germany has refused to send arms and the country’s navy chief Kay-Achim Schoenbach was forced to resign over the weekend after he had said it was ”nonsense” to think Russia was going to invade Ukraine. 

It’s also been reported that planes carrying British arms to Ukraine did not use German airspace because the country’s new government was opposed to the arm shipments.

Asked today about Germany’s position in blocking arms to Ukraine, Coveney said “these are conversations we’ll have with our allies”. 

“We’ve just come from a an informal meeting in Brest a week ago and I can tell you the discussions that we had in relation to Russia and Ukraine was a discussion where ministers put their scripts aside and started speaking to each other in very blunt terms about the need for EU unity, strong messaging to Russia and a focus on defusing tension rather than increasing tension,” he said.

“But should Russia decide to take military action against Ukraine, I think there will be a very strong resolve to act in a very decisive and united manner.” 

- With reporting by Niall O’Connor

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