Russian Navy Moves Exercise After Request From Irish Fishermen

As tensions rise over a Russian troop buildup near Ukraine, Moscow has agreed to move a closely-watched naval drill

The Russian Navy missile cruiser Marshal Ustinov southbound in the Norwegian Sea, accompanied by a fleet tug, Jan. 25 (Forsvaret)

Published Jan 31, 2022 1:22 AM by The Maritime Executive

After a request from Irish fishermen and government officials, the Russian Navy has agreed to relocate a series of planned exercises out of the Irish EEZ, removing the risk of a run-in on Irish fishing grounds. 

When the Russian Ministry of Defense announced plans for a live fire drill off the coast of Ireland earlier this month, it immediately drew opposition from Irish fishing interests, who expressed concern that it would interfere with their commercial operations and potentially impact marine life. A regional industry association, the Irish South & West Fish Producers Organisation, came up with an unusual plan: head out and protest during the exercise.

“It is our understanding that live fire exercises cannot take place if there are vessels engaged in fishing in the area so we are discussing with our vessels owners and skippers a plan aimed towards concentrating the West Cork and Kerry offshore fishing fleet to undertake a peaceful protest at the military exercise location," said Patrick Murphy, the organization's CEO, speaking to industry outlet The Skipper last week.  

Murphy and Brendan Byrne, chief executive of the Irish Fish Processors and Exporters Association, asked for an audience with Russia's ambassador to Dublin, Yury Filatov. They met Thursday, and after presenting Filatov with some of their members' locally-caught prawns, they were assured that the exercise "will not adversarially affect the traditional fishing areas" (though no guarantees were offered, the embassy said). 

The Irish government also voiced its objections. "The Russian exercises off the coast of Cork and Kerry, while not illegal, are not welcome," said Ireland's Tanaiste (deputy head of government), Leo Varadkar, in a statement last week. 

On Saturday, the Russian Ministry of Defense announced that it would relocate the area of the exercise outside of the Irish EEZ in response to these concerns. "Minister of Defense of the Russian Federation Sergey Shoigu has made a decision, as a gesture of goodwill, to relocate the exercises by the Russian Navy . . . outside the Irish exclusive economic zone (EEZ), with the aim not to hinder fishing activities by the Irish vessels in the traditional fishing areas," the ministry said in a statement. 

The naval drill is one of several large-scale Russian Navy mobilization exercise currently under way. As Russia assembles a massive military force along the northern and eastern borders of Ukraine, with upwards of 130,000 troops, the Russian Navy has announced that it is holding drills with 140 vessels - primarily in waters near Russia's own coastlines, but also on the high seas. 

The tally includes 20 warships of the Black Sea fleet, which have departed their ports and are conducting exercises under way, and six tank landing ships from the Northern and Baltic Fleets, which are under way eastbound in the Mediterranean. They are widely expected to pass through the Bosporus to join up with Russia's amphibious forces in the Black Sea.