A number of large Russian warships have been spotted sailing towards Ireland ahead of a planned naval exercise off the coast of Cork next month.
Military experts believe the flotilla, which includes five ships, will be used in the drills some 130 nautical miles off the south west, an area within Ireland’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
The ships, which include one of the Russian Navy’s biggest missile cruisers, the Marshal Ustinov, were spotted by a Norwegian Air Force reconnaissance plane moving along its northern coast on Tuesday.
As The Irish Times reports, maritime tracking websites last showed one of the ships in the group, a fuel tanker called the Vyazma, rounding the northern tip of Norway last night and heading south into the North Atlantic.
Experts say it is not yet certain if the ships are destined for the Irish EEZ exercises or if they are part of separate exercises in the Barents Sea or the Arctic Ocean.
However they said the make-up and trajectory of the flotilla indicates it is probably destined for the Irish EEZ exercise.
It is also probable the ships are being accompanied by a nuclear-powered submarine. The Defence Forces has been alerted to the ships’ activity.
The controversial naval drills are expected to involve the use of naval artillery and missiles as well as Russian aircraft. The Irish Government has asked Russia to reconsider the exercise amid fears of an imminent invasion of Ukraine.
The Irish Aviation Authority has sent a notification to air traffic control in Ireland stating that the live firing exercises will take place between February 3rd and 8th and between 5am and 3pm on those days.
One of the ships, the Marshal Ustinov, is a missile cruiser known as an “aircraft carrier killer”. She is almost 200 metres long and has a complement of some 500 people.
She can carry Vulcan cruise missiles with either conventional or nuclear warheads. Though more than 30 years old she underwent a complete refit five years ago.
On Wednesday, the Russian Defence Ministry released a video of the Ustinov, which is the third largest vessel in its Northern Fleet, leaving dock. It said it was destined for the Arctic to take part in exercises there.
On Tuesday, a Norwegian P-3C Orion maritime surveillance aircraft took photos of the Ustinov and accompanying ships near North Cape where the Barents Sea meets the Norwegian Sea.