THE elation which accompanied our new-found post-Covid ‘freedom’ may have unleashed something of a ‘silly season’ in the media, given the near-hysteria generated by the recent reports of Russian training exercises off the south west coast in February.
But there is a very sinister element to all of this, of course – and that is the simultaneous amassing of Russian troops on the Ukraine border.
Were these planned training missions to have occurred in isolation, without the element of the Ukrainian question, then one wonders how much an impact the reports would have had.
The Russian ambassador Yuriy Filatov said at a press conference on Monday that such training exercises were not new, and did not represent anything unusual. They had been conducted in the same areas for many years, he said. A diplomatic version of ‘nothing to see here’.
However, many would beg to differ. The Taoiseach, for one.
Micheál Martin responded on Tuesday to say that the exercises were not a common occurrence.
His Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney said earlier that the Russian ambassador had been told by the Irish government that such manoeuvres were ‘not welcome’ and that we ‘disapproved’ of them. On Wednesday the government language became a litle bit stronger, but not quite falling under the ‘forceful’ category.
But, given the excercises are taking place in tandem with a very aggressive display of force on the border of a country that itself borders several EU countries, then one wonders why the government’s language is not itself more aggressive.
‘Unwelcome’ and ‘disapproving’ are words more associated with a parent’s commentary on a child’s unsavoury friends, rather than an EU member’s attitude to a hostile neighbour.
It is a pity that our ‘friends’ in the upper echelons of the EU have not come out and added their voice to our Taoiseach’s or former Tánaiste’s in our hour of need, regarding these manoeuvres.
It is not just about the unpalatable nature of the exercises, a mere 240km (150 miles) off the Cork and Kerry coast, but also the potential damage they will do to our marine life and our fishing industry. Representatives of both sectors were vocal this week, even using the word ‘devastating’, about the damage which such training exercises pose to fish stocks – from small stocks to large mammals, like whales.
Similar exercises have been linked to widescale beaching of these mammals in the past. In. 2012 a group of ecologists in the US sued the US National Marine Fisheries Service for failing to protect thousands of whales, dolphins, porpoises, seals and sea lions from US Navy warfare training exercises along the coasts of California, Oregon and Washington.
To settle the case, the US navy subsequently agreed to rule certain areas off-limits to training near the southern Californian and Hawaiian island coasts.
Political observers have commented that the waters off Ireland have long been seen as a ‘soft touch’ by the Russians, due to our poor naval and air force resources. These latest exercises appear to be taking greater advantage of our size and lack of firepower.
Yet another example of the ‘big guns’ of international politics exploiting the little people.
The eccentric Frederick Peel Eldon Potter, editor of The Skibbereen Eagle (which, after a bitter battle became incorporated into what is today’s Southern Star), wrote on April 2nd 1898 his now famous editorial that his ‘liberty-loving and tyranny-hating Eagle’ had its ‘eye … fiercely fixed upon this wretch [the Russian Tsar]’.
It was no shocking revelation back then, as Potter had what many observers described as a ‘fixation’ with Russia at the time, and it was certainly not the first time he had his gaze ‘firmly fixed’ on the Tsar.
But Potter’s extremely graphic descriptions of the ‘brutal and bloodthirsty’ Tsar’s shenanigans made for popular reading – and not just in West Cork. He became the toast of London society and further afield, as observers admired this plucky ‘David’ in his fearless criticism of a despotic Goliath.
This week, perhaps the ‘little voice’ of Europe should channel some of Potter’s renowned valiance and condemn – in Potter’s words, not ours – these ‘fiendish tricks’.