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gesture of 'goodwill’ Russia moves military drills outside of Irish zone 'to not hinder activities by fishing vessels'

Minister of Defence of the Russian Federation Sergey Shoigu has made a decision to relocate the exercises by the Russian Navy

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Russian troops take part in combat drills in the Rostov region near Ukraine's eastern border yesterday. Photo: Sergey Pivovarov/Reuters

Russian troops take part in combat drills in the Rostov region near Ukraine's eastern border yesterday. Photo: Sergey Pivovarov/Reuters

Defence Minister Simon Coveney. Photo: Niall Carson/PA

Defence Minister Simon Coveney. Photo: Niall Carson/PA

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Russian troops take part in combat drills in the Rostov region near Ukraine's eastern border yesterday. Photo: Sergey Pivovarov/Reuters

Controversial military exercises by the Russian navy that were due to take place off the Irish coast have been relocated, according to Foreign Affairs and Defence Minister Simon Coveney.

The move follows a request from Mr Coveney to the Russian defence minister in recent days.

Mr Coveney confirmed the changed in a tweet this evening, writing: "This week I wrote to my counterpart, the Minister of Defence of Russia, to request a reconsideration of naval exercises off the Irish coast.

"This evening I received a letter confirming the Russian exercises will be relocated outside of Ireland’s EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone). I welcome this response.”

Meanwhile in a statement issued this evening, Russian Ambassador to Ireland, Yuriy Filatov, said the decision to move the planned military drills was a “gesture of goodwill” and aimed at not hindering the activities of Irish fishing trawlers.

“In response to the requests from the Irish Government as well as from the Irish South and West Fish Producer's Organisation, the Minister of Defence of the Russian Federation Sergey Shoigu has made a decision, as a gesture of goodwill, to relocate the exercises by the Russian Navy, planned for February 3-8, outside the Irish exclusive economic zone (EEZ), with the aim not to hinder fishing activities by the Irish vessels in the traditional fishing areas,” he said.

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Defence Minister Simon Coveney. Photo: Niall Carson/PA

Defence Minister Simon Coveney. Photo: Niall Carson/PA

Defence Minister Simon Coveney. Photo: Niall Carson/PA

Earlier it was revealed that three Irish politicians had volunteered to board an Irish naval vessel to observe the drills by the Russian military that were due to take place off the southwest coast of Ireland next week.

Independent Senator Gerard Craughwell, a Defence Forces veteran, said he wants to sail out with other politicians to observe the Russian military.

He said two others have said they will join him, Fianna Fáil Senator Diarmuid Wilson and Independent TD Cathal Berry, who is a former army ranger.

Mr Craughwell said the Russian flotilla will be somewhere off the southwest coast next Wednesday or Thursday.

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“This is not unusual but what brings it to the fore this time is we have difficulties at the border of Ukraine at the moment and this is a provocative act more than anything else,” he said on RTÉ Radio 1’s Saturday with Katie Hannon.

“I see this as a provocative act, they picked the weakest link if you want in Europe, Ireland, where we have a pathetic defence set up at the moment due to lack of investment.

"So, they picked us as the weak people and we really cannot monitor what they are doing, we are relying on the British to monitor that part of the ocean and feed any information to us.

“It’s a PR exercise for them, a show of might and a show of power and I think that we should travel out there on naval ships and we should monitor what they are doing in order to show that we too care about our economic zone."

Asked if politicians sailing out there would be a PR exercise on Ireland’s part, Senator Craughwell said “absolutely”.

He added: “Senator Diarmuid Wilson has said he will travel, Cathal Berry said he will travel and I'm sure many others would if we got to speak to them.”

Sinn Féin TD Matt Carthy said he doesn’t think politicians sailing out to observe the Russian military exercises is a good idea.

"Gerard has outlined very well the difficulties and challenges of the Irish navy and I don't know if I would be adding to that by throwing a pile of politicians on a boat with them,” he said.

"I think that would probably make their job more difficult other than anything.”

In a statement to The Times Ireland, the Department of Defence said it would not be appropriate for politicians to board Irish naval ships to observe the Russian military drills.

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