DUBLIN â€” Russia should scrap its planned naval war games off Irelandâ€™s coast to demonstrate its desire to defuse tensions with the West over Ukraine, the Irish deputy premier said Wednesday.
Some cybersecurity and military analysts fear that the exercise planned for early February could be a cover for cutting undersea fiber-optic communications cables connecting America and Europe in event of a Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The waters designated for the Russian exercise, the Porcupine Seabight, lie around 200 miles southwest of Cork. The area is outside Irelandâ€™s territorial waters but within its economic zone for harnessing marine resources.
Neutral Ireland has a nine-ship navy, no sonar or military radar capabilities and virtually no air force, making it an ideal Russian choice for offshore military exercises â€œas Europeâ€™s blind spot â€“ the EUâ€™s weakest link,â€ according to analyst Tom Clonan.
Deputy Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said Russiaâ€™s timing and choice of location â€œmay well be a show of strength towards Britain and Franceâ€ as Russia builds up its forces on Ukraineâ€™s borders. Transatlantic aircraft also must be diverted from the area during the war games, which are expected to involve tests of Kalibr cruise missiles.
â€œThe argument that the Russians would make is they do these exercises in international waters every year and this is just a coincidence,â€ Varadkar told RTÃ‰ radio.
â€œBut whether itâ€™s a coincidence or not, at a time of increasing tensions, at a time of real concern around a possible war between Ukraine and Russia, we think that they should call them off. That would demonstrate goodwill, that the Russians do want to de-escalate these tensions,â€ Varadkar said.
He appealed to Irish fishermen to â€œplease be carefulâ€ if they follow through on their vow to sail into the Russian exercises.
â€œThis is the Russian navy, a major military power with nuclear weapons, with submarines,â€ he said. â€œLetâ€™s not be naÃ¯ve about that.â€