MOSCOW (AP) – Russia said it will relocate naval exercises off the coast of Ireland after Dublin raised concerns about them amid a tense dispute with the West over expansion of the NATO alliance and fears that Russia is preparing to invade Ukraine.
The February 3-8 exercises were to be held 240 kilometres off southwestern Ireland – in international waters but within Ireland’s exclusive economic zone. Ireland is a member of the 27-nation European Union (EU) but not a member of NATO.
Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney this week objected to the war games, saying “This isn’t a time to increase military activity and tension in the context of what’s happening with and in Ukraine. The fact that they are choosing to do it on the western borders, if you like, of the EU, off the Irish coast, is something that in our view is simply not welcome.”
Russia’s Embassy in Ireland on Saturday posted a letter on Facebook from Ambassador Yuriy Filatov saying the exercises would be relocated outside of the Irish economic zone “with the aim not to hinder fishing activities”.
The decision was a rare concession amid the escalating tensions surrounding Russia’s massing of an estimated 100,000 troops near the border with Ukraine and its demands that NATO promise never to allow Ukraine to join the alliance, stop the deployment of NATO weapons near Russian borders and roll back its forces from Eastern Europe.
The United States (US) and NATO formally rejected those demands this week, although Washington outlined areas where discussions are possible, offering hope that there could be a way to avoid war.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has made no public remarks about the Western response. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said it leaves little chance for reaching agreement, though he also said Russia does not want war.
US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Friday that Putin could use any portion of his force to seize Ukrainian cities and “significant territories” or to carry out “coercive acts or provocative political acts” like the recognition of breakaway territories inside Ukraine.