Russia will stage live-fire naval drills off the coast of Ireland

Putin stages naval drills off of IRELAND: Dublin condemns ‘unwelcome’ Russian operation planned for next month as fears grow over war in Europe and UK withdraws Kiev embassy staff

  • Russia will hold live-fire naval drills in February around 150 miles off the Irish coast, Dublin has revealed 
  • Ireland says exercise, which is outside its territorial waters but within economic zone, is ‘not welcome’ 
  • Drill forms part of wider Russian exercises in Atlantic, Pacific, Mediterranean, North Sea and Sea of Okhotsk
  • Comes amid troop build-up near Ukraine that has sparked fears of a war in Europe and an East-West standoff

Russia will hold live-fire naval drills off the coast of Ireland next month, Moscow has announced amid rapidly escalating tensions with the West. 

Battleships will take part in sea drills around 150 miles off Ireland’s southwest coast, within the country’s ‘exclusive economic zone’ but outside its territorial waters.

Foreign Minister Simon Coveney revealed on Monday that Russia had informed Ireland about the drills at the weekend, saying that the warships are ‘not welcome’ but his country ‘doesn’t have the power to stop this from happening’. 

Under UN conventions governing the oceans, military drills are allowed within the economic zones of other states provided they do not stray into territorial waters.

The drill will form part of much broader Russian naval exercises involving 140 ships and 10,000 troops from all of its naval fleets that will take place in the Atlantic, Pacific, Mediterranean, North Sea and Sea of Okhotsk from January until February.

It comes against the backdrop of Russia’s troop build-up on the border of Ukraine, which has sparked fears of a war in Europe and a standoff between East and West.

Amid fears that an invasion is imminent, the UK began withdrawing diplomats from its mission in Kiev today – following a similar US move at the weekend.

EU foreign ministers were also meeting in Brussels, warning of ‘never-before-seen’ sanctions on Russia if the invasion goes ahead. 

Elsewhere today…

  • Joe Biden was considering plans to deploy up to 5,000 US troops to the Baltic region which could ramp up to 50,000 along with warships and aircraft
  • NATO chiefs said the alliance will be deploying additional ships and troops to the Baltics, to provide extra security
  • EU foreign ministers met in Brussels to put on united front against Russia, saying ‘never-before-seen’ sanctions await if it invades Ukraine 
  • US said families of its diplomatic staff in Ukraine have been ordered to leave, and non-essential employees have been offered flights home
  • Australia began withdrawing families of diplomats based in Kiev, told its citizens to leave, and opened talks with Ukraine about defending against cyber attacks 

Russia is planning to hold live-fire naval drills off the Irish coast next month, with Dublin saying the ships are ‘not welcome’ (file image, Russian ships near Saint Petersburg last year)

Ukrainian territorial volunteers take part in military training near Kiev at the weekend amid fears Russia could invade

Civilian volunteers who are part of the Ukrainian territorial army take part in training near Kiev at the weekend

Britain will face even higher gas and petrol prices if Russia invades Ukraine 

Britain could be forced to contend with record-breaking prices for gas and petrol if the fear of a Russian invasion of Ukraine becomes a reality, ministers have been told.

Government officials are concerned that Russia will restrict its provision of gas to European countries in the face of Western sanctions should an invasion of Ukraine take place. 

Europe relies on Russia for around 35 per cent of its natural gas, the bulk of which comes through pipelines including Yamal, which crosses Belarus and Poland to Germany, Nord Stream 1, which goes directly to Germany, and routes through Ukraine.

Although Britain gets its gas from other sources, it would still be confronted with sky-high prices if Russia decided to restrict the flow of gas to Europe as the wholesale price of the resource would balloon.

‘Unlike some countries the UK hardly imports any Russian gas, but like all countries we are exposed to rising wholesale prices, which would be a significant issue if Russia further restricted supply,’ one senior official told The Times.

It comes as British Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab yesterday promised Britain would impose harsh sanctions on Russia should President Vladimir Putin authorise an invasion.  

Raab’s promise came after top U.S. and Russian diplomats failed on Friday to make a major breakthrough in talks to resolve the crisis over Ukraine. 

‘There’ll be very serious consequences if Russia takes this move to try and invade but also install a puppet regime,’ Mr Raab said.

Half of the UK’s diplomatic mission and their families will leave the country, after the US ordered families of its staff to go and offered non-essential embassy staff space on flights back home. 

Having already threatened ‘swift and severe’ economic sanctions if Ukraine is attacked, President Biden was today considering whether to deploy additional troops to the region to counter Russia’s build-up.

Plans presented to the US president at the weekend included sending 1,000 to 5,000 troops to Baltic states neighbouring Russia – with the option of ramping up to 50,000 troops backed by warplanes and ships if the security situation deteriorates.

NATO chief Jens Stoltenburg confirmed today that the alliance will be beefing up its own presence in the region, with additional ships and fighter jets deployed.

Denmark is sending a frigate to the Baltic Sea and deploying F-16 war planes to Lithuania. 

Spain is sending ships to join NATO’s standing maritime force and considering sending fighter jets to Bulgaria. France stands ready to send troops to Bulgaria.

Stoltenberg said NATO will ‘take all necessary measures to protect and defend all allies.’ 

He added: ‘We will always respond to any deterioration of our security environment, including through strengthening our collective defense.’ 

Russia has already deployed extra naval vessels to the Black Sea, after six landing craft were spotted sailing via Denmark and the English Channel – amid fears they could be used as part of an invading force. 

Meanwhile Australia had instructed security officials in Ukraine to open up talks with the government about providing help to defend against cyber attacks.

The country has already been targeted once by hackers in recent weeks – which it blamed on Moscow – and there are fears such an attack could be used to knock out infrastructure and sow chaos ahead of a ground invasion, or else be used as a way of punishing Ukraine short of putting boots on the ground.

Australia also began evacuating the families of diplomatic staff in Ukraine, and ordered citizens to leave the country due to the risk of a Russian attack. 

Speaking about the Russian drills near Ireland at the weekend, politician and former soldier Cathal Berry told The Journal that Russian exercises in the region are ‘unusual’ though not unprecedented.

‘The exercise is posturing and is about messaging directly with European powers,’ he said.

‘The location is not an accident… They could be doing this off the coast of Murmansk but have chosen the Atlantic instead. There has been an increased number of incursions in to this area and near to Irish airspace.’ 

Elsewhere, European foreign ministers are meeting in Brussels today with the aim of putting on a united front against Moscow.  

‘All members of the European Union are united. We are showing unprecedented unity about the situation in Ukraine, with the strong coordination with the U.S.,’ EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told reporters in Brussels.

Asked whether the EU would withdraw its own diplomats from Ukraine, Borrell he would not follow suit and warned against ‘dramatising’ the situation.

He added that he is not aware of any specific threat against European embassy staff, and would like to speak more with Secretary of State Antony Blinken about the US decision to pull his staff out. 

During Monday’s meeting, which Blinken will attend virtually, the ministers will restate Europe´s condemnation of the Russian military build-up near Ukraine, involving an estimated 100,000 troops, tanks, artillery and heavy equipment, diplomats and officials said ahead of the meeting.

They´ll renew calls for dialogue, notably through the European-backed ‘Normandy format,’ which helped to ease hostilities in 2015, a year after Putin ordered the annexation of Ukraine´s Crimean Peninsula. Fighting in eastern Ukraine has killed around 14,000 people and still simmers today.

Should Putin move on Ukraine again, the ministers will warn, Russia would face ‘massive consequences and severe costs.’ Those costs would be of a financial and political nature. The EU insists that it stands ready to slap hefty sanctions on Russia within days of any attack.

‘We don´t know what the Russians are going to do, but what we are talking about is basically the most important security development in Europe since the end of the Cold War,’ a senior EU official said. ‘The response of the European Union will be at the level of the challenge.’

The official and diplomats briefed reporters on condition of anonymity so that they could speak more freely about the meeting preparations.

Over the weekend, some of the member countries closest to Russia – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – confirmed that they plan to send U.S.-made anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles to Ukraine, a move endorsed by the United States.

But questions have been raised about just how unified the EU is. Diverse political, business and energy interests have long divided the 27-country bloc in its approach to Moscow. Around 40% of the EU´s natural gas imports come from Russia, much of it via pipelines across Ukraine.

Gas prices have skyrocketed, and the head of the International Energy Agency has said that Russian energy giant Gazprom was already reducing its exports to the EU in late 2021 despite high prices. Putin says Gazprom is respecting its contract obligations, not putting the squeeze on Europe.

A Ukrainian military instructor drills civilian volunteers in woodlands near Kiev on Saturday 

Ukrainian Servicemen of the 30th Army Brigade are seen in trenches outside of Svitlodarsk, in the east of the country, on Sunday

A Ukrainian soldier is pictured in trenches near Svitlodarsk, eastern Ukraine, on Sunday

The EU´s two major powers appear most cautious. Germany´s Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia, which is complete but yet to pump gas, has become a bargaining chip. French President Emmanuel Macron has renewed previously rejected calls for an EU summit with Putin.

Late last year, France and Germany initially expressed doubts about U.S. intelligence assessments that Moscow might be preparing to invade.

Late on Saturday, the head of the German navy, Vice Admiral Kay-Achim Schoenbach, resigned after coming under fire for saying that Ukraine would not regain the Crimean Peninsula, and for suggesting that Putin deserves ‘respect.’

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban plans to meet with Putin next week to discuss a Russian-backed project to expand a Hungarian nuclear power plant.

Still, diplomats and officials said hard-hitting sanctions are being drawn up with the EU´s executive branch, the European Commission. But they were reluctant to say what the measures might be or what action by Russia might trigger them.

The aim, they said, is to try to match the doubts Putin has sowed about his intentions for Ukraine with uncertainty about what any retaliatory European action might look like, or when it would come.

One diplomat refused to discuss the matter at all. Another suggested that a layered response might be in preparation, with different levels of retaliation depending on whether a cyberattack, rocket strike, or all-out invasion was launched.

A third was confident there would be no arguments over the trigger point, saying: ‘We´ll know it when we see it.’

For now, though, the Europeans must wait and see whether Putin is satisfied with progress in talks with the United States, coordinate with Blinken on a response should things go wrong, and bank on the economic deterrent posed by the EU being Russia´s biggest trading partner.

A US soldier prepares a pallet of anti-tank weapons for transport to Ukraine at Dover Air Force Base, in Delaware, on Friday

America has also begun withdrawing its staff, with families of diplomats ordered home and non-essential staff offered a route out of the country

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