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So, what were the Russians Up To?

Can anyone seriously believe the Russians about their cavorting around the West Coast over the past week?

The Russian Ambassador, Yuir Filatov, took his ire out on the Irish media, not an unusual response when in Russia independent media is closed down, journalists arrested and jailed and the populace there fed only on the Kremlin’s approved diet?

“Sheltering off the West Coast in gale conditions coming from the West, in an area which just happens to be the location of underwater cabling takes a bit of believing, rather like “we won’t invade Ukraine.” Eoin McNamara of Finland’s International Affairs Institute gave a succinct opinion on RTERadio Morning Ireland. The Russian-flagged vessels were showing they knew where important telecommunications cabling was located and the vessels supposedly sheltering had equipment which could disrupt them.A “message” was being conveyed to Ireland. Commercial vessels,not Naval, but who was actually in command aboard and where were instructions being taken from? Seems the ships, which left from the Russian Port of Murmansk may have been a bit uncertain about where they were headed.

The three ships – the Umka, the Bakhtemir and the Fortuna were spotted behaving unusually west of Galway in the vicinity of a new subsea communications cable linking Ireland and Iceland. Their originally charted journey was said to be to Equatorial Guinea on the west coast of Africa. But they turned around, doubling back on a course they were making and apparently after moving on in the weather from which they had been supposedly “sheltering” – well offshore, then went back to where they had been. Rather unusual, marine experts tell me.

So, what were they up to? Where Russian interests are concerned, nothing is immediately believable.

What has created concern is the Naval Service’s inability to have enough crew to send a ship out to investigate. At a time when there are not enough personnel to crew all its ships in home waters a proposal has been reported to send a vessel on arms patrol off Libya. That is raising questions after the Russian presence in the Irish EEZ. Vessels are entitled to pass through, when on legitimate trading and not causing interference with or conceren to the nation whose EEZ is being transited. The Irish Defence Forces said the Russian commercial ships were monitored outside and inside Ireland’s EEZ which they entered, left, then returned to and left again after being monitored and photographed by the Air Corps. Defence sources said at one point one of the ships came within a couple of miles of Irish territorial waters which extend out to 12 nautical miles from the coast.

TD Cathal Berry, a former Army Ranger, is oneof those who has criticised the Naval capability to respond to the Russian presence. “Normal practice is if you have a sensitive convoy moving through your economic waters, you put one of your naval ships out to shadow that convoy,” he said on Newstalk Radio.

There have been a lot of other comments which have made the reasonable point that the Government, through the Department and Minister for Foreign Affairs should express concern to the Russian Ambassador and ask for an explanation of what the vessels were doing close to underwater cables.

Was there nowhere else to shelter and why leave, then return to the same spot, out at sea….?

Tom MacSweeney

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