The ongoing crisis between Russia, Ukraine, and the West has spread to a surprising new place - right off the coast of Ireland. 

On Sunday evening, Ireland voiced its concerns about the planned arrival of a Russian naval group that will appear near its Southwest coast for military exercises in February. Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney, confirmed that the exercises will take place, but criticized their timing given the heightened sense of tensions in Europe as fears mount about a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine in the next few weeks.

“Under international law, including the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, states are entitled to carry out naval exercises in another state’s EEZ," said Coveney in a statement, referring to Ireland's exclusive economic zone at sea. 

“In light of the current political and security environment in Europe, the Department of Foreign Affairs has raised a number of concerns with the Russian authorities in respect of these exercises. We will continue these discussions in the coming days,” he concluded. 

Ireland is not a member of NATO and is officially a neutral country in its foreign policy, though it is a member of the European Union (EU) which has threatened sanctions against Russia if it does launch an invasion into Ukraine as feared. Coveney is due to visit Brussels on Monday for a meeting related to the situation. The Minister said he would inform his European counterparts of the Russian drills off the Irish coast as a topic. 

The Irish Aviation Authority announced that it would be redirecting civilian flights away from this area as a safety protocol. Ireland’s concerns about the drills themselves were also raised with Russia’s Ambassador to Ireland Yury Filatov. 

Irish politicians reacted to the news of the Russian naval exercises with a mix of concerns. In a remark to the Irish Times, a former soldier and independent politician Cathal Berry said that they were meant to be provocative given their proximity to international flight paths and undersea cables. Berry added that it was a "warning" from Moscow to Dublin that the latter was "militarily weak."  

The opposition Sinn Féin party's leader Mary Lou McDonald expressed concerns about Ireland's capacity to monitor Russian activities. She also called Russia's military buildup near Ukraine "extremely worrying" and said that Ukraine's territorial integrity should be respected.