Russia moves naval drill that rocked EU member Ireland
Russia has said it will move the naval drills off the coast of Ireland after Dublin raised concerns about them amid a tense dispute with the West over the expansion of the NATO alliance. NATO and feared that Russia was preparing to invade Ukraine.
The exercises from February 3 to 8 were due to take place 240 kilometers (150 miles) off the coast of south-west Ireland – in international waters but within Ireland’s exclusive economic zone. Ireland is a member of the European Union of 27 countries but not a member of NATO.
Irish Foreign Secretary Simon Coveney opposed the war games this week, saying: “Now is not the time to increase military activity and tension in the context of what is happening with and in Ukraine. The fact that they are choosing to do this on the western borders, if you will, of the EU, off the coast of Ireland, is something that we think is just not welcome.
The Russian Embassy in Ireland posted a letter on Facebook from Ambassador Yuriy Filatov on Saturday saying the drills would be moved outside the Irish economic zone “in order not to hamper fishing activities”.
The decision was a rare concession amid escalating tensions surrounding Russia’s muster of around 100,000 troops near the border with Ukraine and its demands that NATO pledge never to allow Ukraine to join the alliance, to stop the deployment of NATO weapons near the Russian borders and to withdraw its forces from Eastern Europe.
The United States and NATO formally rejected those demands this week, though Washington outlined areas where talks are possible, raising hopes there might be a way to avert war.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has made no public remarks about the Western response. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that left little chance of reaching an agreement, although he also said Russia did not want war.
US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said on Friday that Putin could use any part of his forces to seize Ukrainian cities and “important territories” or to carry out “coercive acts or provocative political acts “like the recognition of separatist territories inside Ukraine.
Two territories in eastern Ukraine have been under the control of Russian-backed rebels since 2014, after Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine.
A Russian lawmaker is encouraging residents of these regions of Ukraine to join the Russian army, a sign that Moscow continues to try to integrate these territories as much as possible. Viktor Vodolatsky said on Saturday that residents of rebel-held areas in eastern Ukraine fear assaults by Ukrainian forces and that those holding Russian passports would be welcome in the Russian military.
“If Russian citizens residing in the (territories) want to join the Russian armed forces, the Rostov regional military commissariat will register and enlist them,” Vodolatsky, deputy chairman of the parliamentary committee on relations with neighbors, told the state news agency Tass.
Russia has granted passports to more than 500,000 people in rebel-held territories. Vodolatsky said the recruits would serve in Russia – but that leaves open the possibility that they could join any future invasion force.
A senior official in President Joe Biden’s administration said the United States welcomed Lavrov’s comments that Russia doesn’t want war, “but that needs to be backed up with action.” We need to see Russia withdraw some of the troops it has deployed from the Ukrainian border and take further de-escalation measures. The official spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak publicly.
Lavrov said the United States had suggested the two sides could discuss limits on the deployment of intermediate-range missiles, restrictions on military exercises and rules to prevent accidents between warships and aircraft. He said the Russians had offered to discuss these issues years ago, but Washington and its allies had never addressed them.
He also said that these issues are secondary to Russia’s main concerns with NATO. He said international agreements state that the security of one nation should not come at the expense of others, and said he would send letters to his Western counterparts asking them to explain their failure to comply with this commitment. .
Washington has warned Moscow of devastating sanctions if it invades Ukraine, including sanctions targeting senior Russian officials and key economic sectors. Lavrov said Moscow warned Washington that the sanctions would amount to a complete severance of ties.
NATO, meanwhile, said it was strengthening its deterrence in the Baltic Sea region.
Russia has launched military exercises involving motorized infantry and artillery units in southwestern Russia, warplanes in Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea and dozens of warships in the Black Sea and the ‘Arctic. Russian troops are also in Belarus for joint exercises, raising fears in the West that Moscow could stage an attack on Ukraine from northern Belarus. The Ukrainian capital is only 75 kilometers (46 miles) from the border with Belarus.