Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade

Situation in Ukraine: Former UN Co-ordinator in Ukraine

2:30 pm

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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The principal subject of today's agenda is the situation in Ukraine. The joint committee has recently held separate meetings with both the ambassador of Ukraine and the ambassador of the Russian Federation. Today we meet retired ambassador Francis M. O'Donnell who served for five years in Ukraine with the United Nations and is well placed to address the committee authoritatively. On behalf of the committee I welcome the ambassador to our meeting. The format is that we will hear a presentation from him. This will be followed by a question and answer session. With his permission I propose to bank all the questions and he can respond later. I invite Mr. O'Donnell to make his presentation.

Mr. Francis M. O'Donnell:

I thank the Chairman and members for the kind invitation to address the committee and share my perspective on the tragic situation in Ukraine. I am here in my capacity as a private citizen, but with a direct experience and familiarity with Ukraine based primarily on my service there as the United Nations Resident Coordinator, responsibly for co-ordinating all UN agencies’ activities for development, during the period 2004, that is, the Orange Revolution, to 2009.My views are therefore my own, and I take full responsibility for them. I compliment the motion on Ukraine carried in the Dáil last week, in every respect.
I would also like to recognise H.E. Mr. Sergii Reva, Ukraine’s ambassador to Ireland and his colleagues from the Baltics. I have come to know during this crisis. His previous presentation to the committee on 5 March was not only erudite but accurate. He has adequately refuted Russian myths about language issues and many other issues as well. I share fully the Ambassador’s alarm that Russia’s legislators have empowered President Putin to invade Ukraine. Worse, Russia’s resort to unilateralism to allegedly redress purported grievances, whether on grounds of Ukrainian instability, or language, ethnicity, or political concerns, has to be utterly repudiated. If there was the slightest truth in Russia’s concerns, why did it not recourse to established international instruments, such as the UN Security Council, the Human Rights Council, the OSCE, or the Council of Europe? Russia must be urged to return to multilateralism and diplomacy.
Since my tenure in Ukraine, I have kept in touch with many on the ground and in leadership positions, and during the past several months of this crisis, I have privately networked to build support and understanding for Ukraine’s true realities, often in the face of contrary propaganda by its large neighbour. As a result, and subject to further developments, the Global Partnerships Forum based in New York stands ready to engage in support of Ukraine’s partnership-building, and more specifically, following my entreaties to the Elders, that is, the group of distinguished former heads of state and government, headed by Kofi Annan, founded by Nelson Manela. I believe they are now planning to bring forward a collective demarcheto Moscow, which they had previously been planning to visit later this year.
Why is this important? It is crucial in my view that the strongest possible delegation of distinguished former Heads of State and Government from around the world should engage in force and in unison with the Russian authorities, both President Putin, and the legislative branches of the Russian Federation. We are on the brink of a major conflagration in Europe. I have had great concern about this for several months, expressed in my various communications to the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs and to the UN Department of Political Affairs. I wish I were wrong, but my regretful predictions as the weeks have gone by have been sadly accurate, and I express further dismay that the latest report I have read last night from the British Royal United Services Institute on Ukraine military dispositions, both Ukrainian and Russian, is very worrying. Therefore, the international community should demand, in light of the annexation of Crimea, that Crimea which is currently occupied in flagrant violation of international law should have an international civilian monitoring presence to ensure that all segments of Crimean society are able to exercise the full range of their civic and political rights. It is also required as international witness to events, and as a disincentive to abuses of human rights, and to prevent impunity for violations.
Democracy can be manipulated. We know this. For the past ten years Ukrainians have struggled against such manipulation and have resisted such obstructions in favour of joining the European mainstream. This is no arbitrary political choice, nor optional geo-strategic alignment to fall into one camp or another. Their aspiration is so deep that it is an insult to them to be told that their orientation is merely the product of western influence, of alleged billions poured in, let alone of US funding of NGOs or EU fiscal bribery, as if they could be "bought off" - to use the term - by such largesse. Nothing could be further from the truth, and those who cling to such myths are either agents or victims of Kremlin propaganda. For that matter, US and EU funds provided largely to Ukraine have mainly been used to strengthen civil society, and build institutions’ capacities in the best traditions of modern governance, and in programmes that reflect the sovereign choice of Ukraine. The UN and other agencies, as well as other multi and bi-lateral development partners have regularly collaborated with these programmes, within overall frameworks of donor co-ordination and accountability, such as the OECD’s Paris Declaration and the Busan Partnership.
What should now be the priority of the international community? First, the international community has to ensure that the costs to the Russian Federation are such that President Putin has no alternative other than to realise he grossly miscalculated his Crimean gambit. Second, diplomacy must remain not only open but creative, exploring solutions “outside the box”; Russia must not be pushed into such a corner that it feels more isolated and can only fight back. Third, therefore, there must be other options open to Russia that are attractive domestically and internationally in a fast-changing environment where positions can and must shift, ultimately towards resolution based on political compromise that entails a “win-win” perception. Fourth, in this context, the “win-win” must be quadrilateral, as follows: for Ukraine, for Russia, for the European Union, and for the US and NATO. That is a tall order, therefore the EU preparation for four-party talks is absolutely the way to go, and last night’s announcement that these will start next week is hardly a minute too soon. Fifth, it should also be a win-win for the international rule of law, for global and regional security, for human rights and broad-based socio-economic progress. Sixth, it must lead quickly to an omnibus reform of the UN Security Council – so very long overdue – as it is thoroughly unacceptable that any Big-5 nuclear-wielding power should not only hold a veto over vital actions to preserve international peace and security, but also be able to flagrantly violate the same. Seventh, in this crisis, we should see an opportunity on many levels and dimensions, to strengthen the international system, the rules that underpin it, and the instruments designed to uphold human dignity and preserve peace and security.
Ukraine is at a crossroads and does not need foreign interference, invasion, occupation, fragmentation, and annexation, or for that matter, cultural condescension. What role can Ireland play? In my opinion Ireland should return to the great prominence of its moral leadership evinced during the de-colonisation era a half-century ago, and now play a vanguard role in building EU, wider European, and broad global consensus for reform of the UN Security Council. Ireland should pay attention to the dramatically-altered threat environment posed by recent Russian aggression, conduct a new risk assessment, and reverse the pathetic trend of Irish defence expenditure which at 0.5% of GDP, is far below the EU norm. We are almost unique as a non-NATO country that has dramatically depleted its Defence Forces in recent years. In fact we have no practical capacity to defend this country. Worse, the attempts to reduce the service age will accelerate the loss of trained personnel, at exactly the time when we may need them. The parliamentary co-operation between the Oireachtas, and the Ukrainian Verkhovna Rada could be enhanced within the framework of PACE.
For Ukraine, Ireland could explore, promote and support the engagement of the Global Partnerships Forum in building stronger partnerships for Ukraine. It could promote also low-cost confidence-building measures that should serve to assuage both Ukrainian and Russian anxieties about risks of human rights violations, for example, through the deployment of teams by the international NGO coalition known as Non-violent Peaceforce which carries out low-cost and effective unarmed civilian protection with multilateral and bilateral donor funding in such places as the Caucasus, South Sudan, and the Philippines, where it is part of the Mindanao peace process. FLD from this country could also be involved. The Government and Oireachtas could support the Institute for International and European Affairs to substantially ratchet-up its monitoring of the situation in Ukraine and its neighbourhood, by having a watching brief regularly shared with government and Oireachtas officials, and also by inviting and hosting presentations by Ukrainian leaders and Russian alternative political voices, such as Boris Nemstov,former deputy prime minister.
Not least, the Irish in Ukraine have long lamented Ireland’s failure to deploy a full-time resident ambassador to Ukraine. It is beyond comprehension that this, the largest country entirely in Europe, located at its geographic heart, in such a geo-strategically sensitive location, with a population about the size of Spain’s, should have no Irish resident embassy.

Ukraine's progress in this respect, with out support, would not be at the expense of Russia. To the contrary, Russia stands to gain enormously from a European Ukraine but obstructing it is a lose-lose failure.

More than this, let me conclude by saying that this is an historic opportunity to, as it were, "build back better" a genuine and deeper partnership between Russia, Europe and America. It would be one which is inclusive rather than built on exclusions, one that appreciates the multi-vector realities that Ukraine has so earnestly tried to balance. Last but not least, one that not only recognises Ukraine’s strategic centrality to the continent of Europe. It also enables Ukraine to enjoy its location to the fullest by being the great link that underpins Russo-Euro-Atlantic co-operation. I thank the Chairman and members and remain at their disposal.

2:40 pm

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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I thank the former ambassador. I said, at the outset, that he was well placed to give a dissertation to the committee and he has. He mentioned some thought provoking issues which I am sure the committee will find equally interesting. I shall call on members in the order in which they gave notice. I ask Deputy Brendan Smith to commence.

Photo of Brendan SmithBrendan Smith (Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna Fail)
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I welcome Mr. O'Donnell's detailed and clear presentation. I also welcome his endorsement of the Dáil motion which I supported strongly last week. It is unfortunate that we are back in a certain era. We have returned to Cold War politics. In January and February, on behalf of the Fianna Fáil party, I took the opportunity in the Dáil, during special debates, to criticise the Ukrainian authorities for the fatal actions they perpetrated on their own citizens. Subsequently, at this committee and in the Dáil, I strongly condemned Russia's violation of the territorial integrity of its neighbouring country.

Mr. O'Donnell has proposed that former heads of State or Government should be involved. Has his suggestion been met with approval or support from the European Union, the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade or the United Nations? He referred to the non-functioning of the Security Council of the UN, an issue that we have discussed at this committee on numerous occasions. Is there any appetite throughout the world to have a meaningful reform of the United Nations? It has failed, in so many respects, to deal with the issues that it was established to counteract in the first place.

Photo of Seán CroweSeán Crowe (Dublin South West, Sinn Fein)
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I wish to make a number of points. Yesterday I attended a meeting on this same issue in Brussels that was organised by the socialists and democrats group. A number of people from a journalistic background were in attendance. Everyone was given some insight into what has happened to journalists and the importance of a free press. Mention was made of two journalists who were held for 11 days, stripped of their clothes, had their hair cut, were held incommunicado for the entire 11 days and did not know if they were going to survive. That was only a couple of weeks before the meeting. It was said that the day before that another three people had been kidnapped and they were held for a couple of days in the same way. The day before yesterday four attacks had been made on media offices supposedly by so-called Russian separatists. By now people have formed their views on the matter. The people at the meeting said that the media had been manipulated across the board regarding this matter and it is important to establish a free media.

The EU and others are concerned about the situation. Does Mr. O'Donnell see them having an important role to play? At the meeting the point was made that it was more than just people from a Ukrainian background who were investigating the situation and that journalists from the west were being attacked as well. They said that there were voices coming out of Russia as propaganda on the situation.

I agree with what Mr. O'Donnell said about a win:win situation. My view of the zero sum is that people were given an either-or option. It is important for us to move away from zero sums. That game continues because the Russians still propose it even though the country is practically bankrupt. The EU is also talking about the matter. We do need dialogue but people need to step back. Some of the options proposed by Mr. O'Donnell may work and they are worth looking at.

Some people have portrayed this situation as Moscow's grand plan to destabilise Ukraine. Does Mr. O'Donnell believe that claim? That is one viewpoint that has come out. Yesterday's discussion in Brussels was useful because there were new voices to listen to and some of them had been at the protests that took place on the square. They talked about what happened and the amount of people who had been killed. Information came out about the interior Minister ordering uniforms to be destroyed, that the weaponry used had been put offside and that the rounds of ammunition that had been ordered were used for deer hunting. There was a trail of information but that has all gone now at the hands of the previous minister.

We are playing catch up in terms of Ukraine. If we, as a society, are concerned about finding out what happened to many of the people who were killed then we need to conduct a separate body of work. Does Mr. O'Donnell agree that the EU should hold off any negotiating agreement with Ukrainian leaders until after the elections? There will be elections shortly. Will they help the situation? I note what he said in his report, that he is critical of people saying that it was an interim government and so on.

A question arose at yesterday's meeting about the inclusion of the far right in the Government such as the deputy prime minister and others. The person who chaired the conference, and was in the same group as Deputy Eric Byrne, said that such involvement is one of the concerns that people have in Europe. Also, there was reference to the fact that prior to the election those individuals had very little electoral support, yet nine members have been appointed to government, which sends out the wrong signal. No satisfactory answers were given on the day.

Another matter is the involvement in and building of civic society in Ukraine, which is hugely important as we move into the next phase. I am interested to hear Mr. O'Donnell's viewpoint on the matter.

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Deputy. The next batch of speakers comprises Deputy Eric Byrne, Senator David Norris, Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan and Senators Michael Mullins and Jim Walsh. Deputy Eric Byrne will commence.

Photo of Eric ByrneEric Byrne (Dublin South Central, Labour)
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I welcome Mr. O'Donnell. I deeply respect his accumulated knowledge and his experience as ambassador and placements throughout the world. I am fascinated by his contribution. It is my belief that I have not, as a politician, engaged in any previous issue that has been so divisive on the propaganda field. A horrendous propaganda campaign has emanated from the east by the Russians. We cannot move forward and be satisfied unless we come to terms with what provoked the Russians to move into Crimea. I am not happy that the west has projected itself honestly from a propaganda point of view.

In order to move forward it is important to understand what happened. Therefore, I shall defer to Mr. O'Donnell and ask him a couple of questions. What is his belief or understanding of the Eastern Partnership as a European concept? To this day I fail to understand how so many people from the West engaged without success in the Eastern Partnership relationship with Ukraine. Mr. Pat Cox was sent out as the Baroness Ashton's agent. Everybody in the west was told, including the Cheann Comhairle who visited Kiev and spoke to people there, that the ink had almost dried on the paper yet the partnership did not happen. Can Mr. O'Donnell explain the diplomatic ineptitude within the European Union that existed at the time?

Notwithstanding what had happened in Georgia when that President, stupidly, in my view, attempted to take on the so-called Russian bear, who he thought was asleep on some bank holiday weekend in May, he is now advising the current Government, which worries me. That was the history. Then, the Eastern Partnership was engaging in these agreements with Armenia, and clearly Armenia pulled out because of the pressure from the Russians. Therefore, we already have a timescale and then we have the lads trying to secure the agreement of Yanukovych.

What worries me is that I am not satisfied that all the Western propaganda has been explained. Why did we not know about the existence of the extreme right wing fascists in Ukraine until after the events? Is Mr. O'Donnell happy that the intercession of France, Poland and Germany in the creation of the alternative Government, which gave such prominence to these fascists in the new Government, was appropriate diplomacy? What does he think of the first decision of that Government to outlaw Russian in those peripheral regions where Russian was recognised as the second language? Its first parliamentary project was to renege on that agreement. There is a lot of propaganda. It worries me that we have not as yet had an explanation as to why the Estonian Foreign Minister, in a live taped broadcast with the baroness, suggested that guns were being used by the opposition. It is my confirmed belief that members of the opposition killed at least 12 riot police. Where is this being debated in order that we can understand the totality of what went on at the Maidan?

In the past three years it has always been my belief that the West has not treated Ukraine as a unitary state. It spoke to the Western element of Ukraine and totally neglected to engage and understand the Russian speakers and the Russian half of the nation. Diplomacy in the West and in the European Union must be examined very closely in regard to why the poor Ukrainian state is in the state it is in today, given what is happening in Donetsk and the eastern regions. I am probably an unpopular politician in suggesting that we need to study the role the EU played in pushing the Eastern Partnership cause, given what trends had occurred in Georgia, where the troops could have gone as far as Tbilisi, as we know. How did it get it so wrong? Pat Cox was out there and everyone was going to sign, but it all failed.

I extend and put on the public record my support for the Ukrainian state, the state of both Russian and Ukrainian speakers. We must do all in our power. Mr. O'Donnell is aware the OSCE originally sent in some monitors, who could not get into Crimea in any case. A presidential election is taking place. One of the first acts of Tymoshenko when she got out of jail, notwithstanding what was going on with the four leaders of the West and with the Parliaments, was to tell the rioters to stay at their posts. Now, she is going to be a candidate in this election. Would Mr. O'Donnell agree with me that what we need in Ukraine are nationalists who believe in Ukraine as a totality, combining the support of the Ukrainian people and Russian speaking Ukrainians? How does he view the OSCE election monitoring that is going to take place? He knows they are sending out 900 short-term observers and there is already a core team and other teams out there. How does he consider it will pan out in terms of their ability to monitor?

Does Mr. O'Donnell think a presidential election at this point in time is the appropriate structure that is required for Ukraine? In other words, would it not be far more democratic and healthy to have parliamentary elections rather than presidential elections?

2:50 pm

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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Dia dhuit a iar-ambasadóir, agus tá fáilte romhat. First, I compliment Mr. O'Donnell on an admirably passionate advocacy of the rights of the people of Ukraine, which is very refreshing and, if it was not always diplomatic, I welcome that. We all feel that the people really squeezed in this situation are the small people who want to get on with their lives, raise their families, educate their children and live happily. There are very worrying historical echoes, for me, of the Sudetenland and the Anschluss, and the way in which German speaking people were deliberately motivated by Berlin to create trouble in order that this would provide an alibi and an excuse. This is particularly worrying in a place like Donetsk, for example.

I have two questions and I would then like to make some comments. First, what, in Mr. O'Donnell's opinion, would constitute a win-win situation? My second question is more fundamental but very important. I am delighted Mr. O'Donnell raised the issue, which concerns the outrageous situation of the UN Security Council. There is absolute need for reform of the UN at the very highest level. It is not tolerable that the post-Second World War situation remains, whereby there are five countries with vetoes permanently on the council. It is totally out of date and it leads to an abrogation of democracy. I was quite amused, by the way, by the attitude of the Chinese on this, in that they abstained and they waffled, and they this and they that. I would love to see them take a similar position with regard to their own situation in Tibet, where they have done huge damage.

I note the reference to confidence building measures we could engage in that would assuage both Ukrainian and Russian anxieties about risks of human rights violations. Mr. Putin is quite a professional human rights violator himself. I have to say, as somebody who likes looking at the psychology of leadership, there seems to me to be something a bit odd about a leader who finds it necessary to gallop around half naked on a stallion in order to demonstrate his masculinity, while he is persecuting gay people who do not behave in half as outrageous a fashion.

The other point I want to make is one I do not think will recommend itself to Mr. O'Donnell, for which I apologise, but I like to look at the truth. I believe Crimea is part of Russia historically. If we look at Crimea, with its enormous Russian naval base and the kind of population balance there, while it may be uncomfortable, I think it is part of Russia. The problem is Putin and the putrid regime that he heads.

It was the same in Iraq. There is not the slightest question or doubt that Kuwait was part of Iraq. In any situation - and I am half-English - where we have the British Administration in 1919 drawing a line from the coast, turning at right angles, taking another right-angled turn, hitting the coast neatly and enclosing all the then known oil reserves for their own advantage, it is obvious that Saddam Hussein was right. He was egged on to a certain extent by the Americans, although they then intervened. The problem was that Saddam was a monster and his regime was appalling. I would say to people on this committee to look at the net result of international intervention led by the United States and Britain. I have been in Iraq. It is a hell of a lot worse. The lives of ordinary people are now infinitely worse than they were before. That is a fact. Where there was a secular state, there is now sectarianism.

I would be worried about this situation, which is immensely complex. I have great sympathy for and empathy with the ordinary, decent people of Ukraine, whether they are Russian speaking or Ukrainian speaking. Our sticking our nose in, in any very militaristic way, would be a disaster. I pose this question.

For example, if Russia had decided to mount a massive propaganda campaign in Hawaii and convinced the indigenous people of the island that they had been walked on and their rights trampled by dreadful flip-flop wearing tourists and they were incited to say, "Russia, please come in and rescue in" and they went in, the Yanks would not like it given all the naval bases and so on in Hawaii. There would be a whiff of cordite around the joint. It is a complex situation. Our interest and that of Mr. O'Donnell is the welfare of the people on the ground. The arrangements of empires are for the people at the top who are usually blackguards.

3:00 pm

Photo of Maureen O'SullivanMaureen O'Sullivan (Dublin Central, Independent)
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According to Mr. O'Donnell's curriculum vitae, one of the schools he attended is St. Vincent's in Glasnevin, which is in the constituency I represent.

Last night's Irish television news carried pictures of our President and the Queen of England speaking together at the banquet in Windsor Castle and this reminded us of our troubled, difficult and fractured history and relationship with Britain and where we are at this point in time. This was followed by a report on violence at a meeting in the Ukrainian Parliament. It was appalling to see members of parliament beating each other up in the parliament. Where will the leadership come from if that is the solution to a disagreement between people with varying views?

When the Ukrainian ambassador appeared before the committee, he described vividly the Russian language issue for people in the Crimea and gave an example of that and when the Russian ambassador appeared before us, I asked him why these human rights issues had not been brought to the various authorities and he had no answer. I was left to draw my own conclusions from that.

I have a question about the implications of what has happened not only for Ukraine and Crimea but for the other former members of the USSR. One cannot help feeling their fear and the dangerous scenario they are in if this is the beginning of the age of imperialism, round two. The other issue is gas and energy dependence and what is going on in this regard. What is Mr. O'Donnell's view on that? Senator Norris mentioned the ports issue. The significance of the port for the Russian fleet was not recognised. Could Mr. O'Donnell identify one priority that would address the issue in order that there would be a return to democracy in Ukraine?

Photo of Michael MullinsMichael Mullins (Fine Gael)
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I welcome Mr. O'Donnell. I apologise for missing the earlier part of his presentation. I would like to tease out one or two of the priorities he listed. He said the international community has to ensure the costs to the Russian Federation are such that President Putin has no alternative but to realise he miscalculated his Crimean gambit. Is this a reference to increased sanctions? Will Mr. O'Donnell flesh this out? He said: "Diplomacy must remain not only open but creative." What creative solutions has he in mind? His observation that Ireland has no embassy in Ukraine is interesting. Has he ever raised this issue with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade during his long career? If so, what response did he receive?

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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Mr. O'Donnell raised a number of important issues and the response of members is indicative of that. He referred to the helplessness of the international community, an issue we have all raised in the House from time to time when an aggressor appears on the scene. The strongest suit an aggressor always has is the belief that no one can intervene and no action can be taken. Then aggressor in whatever part of the globe he or she may be will proceed. We do not have to go too far back in our history for examples of aggressors assuming supreme control on the basis that nobody had the courage to ask them to stop or to intervene with them. That is the lesson to be learned.

Mr. O'Donnell is correct about the need to reform the UN Security Council in a way that would make it more meaningful and more respected. I was surprised by the appraisal by some Members of the Ukrainian conflict during a debate in the House last week who made a comparison with the war in Kosovo. It was indicated that the EU and NATO were aggressors. Even recent history fades into memory quickly because that was not the case. The aggressor recognised that nobody had the power to intervene. The UN did not have the military power to be able to stand down an aggressor and diplomacy did not work. It was as simple as that. During the famous intervention in Srebrenica, it was clear that the UN was recognised as being helpless and unable to do anything and, as a result, 8,000 people were massacred in one fell swoop. It is to the discredit of the international community that it was unable to deal with that.

Mr. O'Donnell raised the question of the appointment of an ambassador to Ukraine and we should consider this. We will convey that to the Minister.

Deputy O'Sullivan raised an important issue. Diplomacy works in more ways than one. Hidden diplomacy with an iron fist is an alternative. Energy supplies to that region are in Russian hands. The rest of the international community must be able to say to them that they cannot do what they wish all the time. There has to be recognition of the rights of others and of minorities and that applies across the board.

Nelson Mandela left prison after a long number of years. He was unique in the sense that he was a forgiving man. He was able to walk away and then talk about peace. Everybody is not as easily disposed towards peace, particularly when they have been imprisoned following a short, sharp intervention in this fashion and it takes them longer to recover. We need to recognise that Yulia Tymoshenko was not treated in a democratic fashion when she was in prison.

Mr. Francis M. O'Donnell:

I thank the members. I am excited by their questions and I would love to answer them in the detail and the richness of a good debate. I will try to do justice to them and I will go through my notes from the beginning. I will, therefore, begin with Deputy Byrne. There is a huge challenge to us in the international community - and this is an irony, if not a paradox, of today's information revolution that we so often speak about - first to understand where is the truth in all that we are hearing about Ukraine and to what extent there is any veracity in the many Russian claims made about the situation there. I believe there is some. Can we believe everything that is said from the other side of fence - the western or EU sides? It is difficult.

In a way, it comes down to questions of honesty, transparency, accountability and the extent to which we can corroborate and verify the evidence and determine what it suggests. If we want to examine Russia's activities, particularly those of President Putin, we must ask what exactly is occurring and his motivation. Have we been asleep at the switch for years without recognising the significance of the Georgian experience and other events?

I note that Transnistria did not figure particularly prominently, or at all, in the remarks but I am very concerned that Russia will not stop with Crimea and push into eastern Ukraine imminently. I have been saying to those on whom I feel I have an influence and who can influence events that the presidential elections on 25 May are what I consider to be the outside limit of what Mr. Putin believes to be his window of opportunity to seize what he wants in Ukraine. It is unlikely that he will wait until the day before the elections prior to acting. Irrespective of whether one relies on General Breedlove of NATO or the British Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies, whose very interesting report I read last night, all the indicators suggest the build-up is ready to move. The Russian forces are, to all intents and purposes, ready to move, regardless of how poorly reformed they may be and how poorly co-ordinated they might turn out to be in practice. If this is the case, the world at large has no time to lose. I hesitate to say the west because the matter should not be cast in these polar terms. We in the world at large have no time to lose in bringing pressure to bear on Mr. Putin personally and on his regime to have him back off from the horrendous move he has made into Ukraine and the devastating gesture he has made towards the international rule of law. The move has come from a Big Five superpower with a nuclear arsenal. The question of truth is fundamental. It is perhaps very difficult to discuss this when views can be so polarised, as members rightly pointed out.

Why did we in the west not project ourselves better? Much of the substantive background analysis and information on Mr. Putin's motives and what was occurring has been available. What has been missing, and what is usually missing, as with the risk of Rwandan genocide, on which I spoke to a multi-faith forum in New York six months prior to that genocide's occurrence, and as with problems in the Balkans over 20 years ago, is a political leadership that ought to be informed about and conscious of the risks. The political leadership does not take these matters into account when it ought to. I sit here today to try to do my bit to alert the committee, in our humble nation on the fringe of Europe, to the grave risks that we all face.

Let me address the question of what I think of the concept of the Eastern Partnership. It was, on the whole, an effort in very good faith to try to afford the possibility of integration into the European Union to those countries on its periphery. Such countries are getting closer and closer to the Russian frontier. I was asked what I mean by "creative". There is a Eurasian union on the cards, if not coming into being, and there is the European Union and the gap between the two. There is still a black hole in the Balkans, whose states have still not been integrated into the European Union although they are completely surrounded by it. It would not take too much to imagine an arrangement between the European Union and the Russian Federation with some involvement across the Atlantic in support of this on the basis of some further political configuration that is not as intensive as the European Union but which does not compromise the existing unity between its member states.

I hope the Union can be improved and reformed further and that we can get rid of the democratic deficit that is so often spoken about. I am talking about bringing Russia closer to a looser type of arrangement like the European Union, making it part of such an arrangement and giving it some kind of prominence, while also giving the other central Asian countries a role in addition to the Caucasus and so forth. In a way, this ought to be possible.

Curiously, I believe former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, when in office, and others spoke about a Euro-Mediterranean union. When we look to the south, we look beyond the European Union towards some sort of more open and inclusive arrangement that involves the relevant countries in a wider set of challenges and opportunities. The same should be done in the east. The same needs to be done with Russia. Russia cannot be made to feel excluded from what is happening. We need to think outside the box and determine how this can be achieved. However, we are too slow in the west. In Europe, we are far too slow to move forward with these types of ideas, flesh them out and debate them. Instead, what has been happening is that Mr. Putin and his elite have been pursuing a different, more imperialist vision of a resurgent Russia, very much influenced by Mr. Ivan Ilyin and other such people. There is an ideology in Russia today based on a form of monarchism that regarded the tragedy of the 20th century as being the collapse of the Soviet Union, but also on what President Putin's philosophical mentor Ivan Ilyin has described as the tragedy of the Russian Revolution.

It is very important to understand the philosophical underpinnings of what Mr. Putin is doing, what makes him think, what drives the elite, and where the interests mesh with the oligarchic class. Unfortunately, a book that was to be published by Cambridge University Press on the connections that may or are alleged to exist between criminal networks, organised oligarchs and the Putin regime has been pulled back by the publisher out of fear of litigation from the Russian side.

There is a need for us to understand, at a wider level and not just at the level of policy experts, much more deeply what is happening in the part of the world in question and not be swayed too much by the ideological clichés that arise from time to time. We should not regard this as a left–right issue in the classic sense of Irish politics, for example. This is not an issue of the left and right wings, nor is it an issue of the west of Europe versus the east of Europe. Even in Ukraine, it is not an issue of the west of Ukraine versus the east of Ukraine. Outside the main urban centres where Russian is the predominant language, the language in the rural areas is primarily Ukrainian. One should not think that when one sees a linguistic map of Ukraine, it is showing one the political configuration, even in Kharkiv, for example.

We are speaking English in this room today. Can one imagine the outcome if, after President Higgins’s visit to London over the past few days, soccer hooligans were to come over here fomenting unrest against Gaelgóirí and people began stating we must speak up for the rights of English speakers, with the result that Her Majesty's Government became very concerned about the matter and British forces started coming here without their insignia to take over Donegal, Cavan and Monaghan so as to annexe them to Northern Ireland and declare the Republic of Ulster, which would be suddenly annexed by Great Britain? This should not be done but it is exactly what Mr. Putin has done in Crimea. It is exactly what he would not fail to do if he had the chance in the rest of Ukraine.

3:10 pm

Photo of Eric ByrneEric Byrne (Dublin South Central, Labour)
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I have a quick question on that analysis, bearing in mind the circumstances if there were no Eastern Partnership and no engagement in the process.

Is Mr. O'Donnell suggesting that Mr. Putin was going to move in any case, irrespective of the Eastern Partnership's activities and Europe trying to get them to sign the partnership agreement?

3:20 pm

Mr. Francis M. O'Donnell:

The Deputy may or may not know that Russia waged an economic against the Ukraine many months before Yanukovych pulled back from signing the association's agreement. In other words, there was an element of blackmail in Russia's treatment of Ukraine at that point in time.
With the association process, in absorbing the acquis communautaire,a number of chapters will be very problematic, especially the agricultural area for the Ukraine, for example, and in some other areas. Like all of the other countries that have joined the EU, Ireland has gone through this process more or less. Ireland has had its fisheries issues and other countries have had reservations about one thing or another. It is through the process of discussion and dialogue that one eventually sorts things out.
I shall explain what I think has happened. President Putin saw a threat and sees a threat in western liberal traditions and in western liberal thinking. If one understands what goes on in the Kremlin then one will understand the following. Anything that speaks of a greater open society, more liberal values or sharing of them, and various freedoms that are only recent in this country for certain communities is seen as a threat by President Putin. He is extremely conservative, he is politically fairly autocratic and even some of the political elite in Russia are very concerned about what is happening in Russia. As I mentioned in my paper, only yesterday Boris Nemtsov, a former deputy prime minister of Russia, drew a comparison between the liberties and rights that Putin espouses for Russian speakers as if they are ethnic Russians - which is not the same thing - in Ukraine and the denial of the same rights to people in Russia. There has been a gradual pulling back from these things.
Clearly, at the intelligence level there had been an insufficient grasp of what was likely to happen with the partnership and an insufficient understanding of the risks. I think we were all taken by surprise by the alacrity with which Russia manoeuvred itself into Ukraine or Crimea and into which it has an exit. One can be fairly sure that because of the sophistication with which this has been done that - and they say that it was almost bloodless though not entirely - this has been in the planning for a very long time. It is not the sort of thing that just comes about by chance. In the west we did not realise what was going to happen. Pat Cox's role was a very important one. I would not say that there was diplomatic ineptitude. I am not competent to judge the competence of the European Union's diplomats. With regards comparisons with Georgia and the fact that Armenia pulled out, we should have seen something more in that situation but we did not.
A question was asked about fascists. Let me also mention the issue of anti-semitism. About eight years ago when I was the resident co-ordinator in Ukraine we had a very serious problem on the streets of Ukraine. I would say there was a rise of xenophobia. Even people who were Spanish did not look Slavic enough and were occasionally beaten up and tortured. There was huge concern for Japanese, Indian, Oriental and African students who were being regularly beaten up. This was all being done by a tiny fringe group of neo-nazi extremists.
In response I mobilised the international community. We created what was called the diversity initiative which was implemented by UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration. We got President Yushchenko at the time to acknowledge the problem and take action. He instructed the SBU, which is the secret service headed today by Valentyn Nalyvaichenko who was also the head of it at the time though not in the interim. Mr. Nalyvaichenko took immediate action against these people and the foreign ministry set up a unit to monitor the situation. There was excellent dialogue and communication between the international community and the Government at that time in order to deal with this crépusculeof extremism.
Extremists exist as they exist in most countries in Europe. One has far less risk and less incidents are experienced today in Ukraine, for example, by the Jewish community than one has in Paris, London, Munich or Berlin. It is true that there was one rabbi who said that all of the Jews should leave Ukraine. His call was immediately contradicted by the most widely recognised chief rabbi of Ukraine - there is more than one - Yaakov Dov Bleich, who is head of one of the Hasidic movements. Rabbi Bleich clearly said this was not the case and there was no major risk to the Jewish community in Ukraine and, in fact, a lot of the anti-Semitic activity was motivated clandestinely from Russia. This statement was backed by Rabbi Alexander Duchovny who is the chief rabbi of the progressive Jewish movement in Ukraine. It was also picked up by a rabbi who is himself a native of Simferopol in Crimea. Both rabbis wrote to Mr. Putin telling him to please back off and to stop playing the Jewish card in Ukraine, that this is not an issue and he does not need to make it an issue. If one read the articles of The Times of Israelone would also see that this situation is largely the case. We should not exaggerate the importance of this matter. It is always a risk in any western society as much as in any eastern European country. Fanning the problem does not help and that is what has been done by Russian propaganda.
Fascism exists. Most of us would not be happy to see some fascist members of Svoboda or the Right Sector take part in some of the activities in Ukraine, let alone in the current cabinet of the Government. Let me explain what happened. Mr. Yanukovych accepted the memorandum, that he signed with three foreign Ministers who had arrived and also the Russian envoy, and reverted to the constitution of 2004. He then refused to sign the Bill that would have done so and fled the country. The Rada Parliament, acting under the terms of the agreement, reverted to the constitution of 2004 and in the absence of an effective head of State - because he had fled the country - appointed a speaker and a cabinet composed of democratically elected members of the Verkhovna Rada to assume office. How anybody could question the legitimacy of such a parliament? One cannot. If I am not mistaken, Italy currently has a Prime Minister who is not an elected member of Parliament. Has anybody created a fuss about Italy? I do not think so. Each country has its constitutional traditions. Is there a need for constitutional reform in Ukraine? Absolutely and that has been recognised by the major political parties. They need to adopt, or consider at least, a lot of the recommendations of the Venice Commission which will bring them to a meaningful place. This is a work in progress. The Irish Constitution is not perfect, just look at how many times we have had to amend Bunreacht na hÉireann.
With regards the OSCE mission, Tymoshenko told protestors to stay put on the Maidan which was probably not a good move. Some mistakes were also made on the Ukrainian side. It was obviously a mistake by Rada to try to remove the status given to the Russian language. The acting president did not endorse the bill so it was a red herring.
It was also probably a mistake to dissolve the Berkut forces. The regime simply disowned them and allowed them to be recruited en masseby the Russians in Crimea and elsewhere. The proper thing to do would have been to rein in the Berkut security forces. The regime should have ensured that the Berkut were properly under civilian control and would not engage in the sorts of things that have happened in Crimea and now in Kharkov and Lugansk.
The question of including the Global Elders was raised. The Global Elders is a group of former statesmen and stateswomen, which includes our own Mary Robinson. It was led by the late Nelson Mandela but its current Chair is Kofi Annan whose birthday was yesterday. I have been agitating, so to speak, to get this group of distinguished world leaders to go to Moscow.

I have been told they were going to go later in the year and that they wanted to keep their powder dry. I went back to them again on this and they said they would bring the trip forward. I do not know how soon it will be. Does it have the support of the UN, EU or Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade? I have no idea but I have written to the Department to urge it to support a measure like this.

The non-functioning of the Security Council is tragic. It needs to be reformed and the committee knows my views on that. Is there any appetite for reform? There was in recent years and when we had the Millennium Declaration around the turn of the Millennium, there was much promise and hope. I remember how following the events of 11 September 2001, the thought of what a moment of truth crossed my mind. US foreign policy does not always work, there are lessons to be learned here and there. There might have been a real reaching out to the underprivileged in this world. What happened then? We had the riposte to the events of 11 September; the war on terror; the rolling back of civil liberties in many countries; increasing repression, even in western countries; and all of what we have today with cyber-security issues. Our lives have changed forever as a result. It is tragic. The dividend we should have got with the peace situation in the world in 2000 was blown asunder when all the financing that would have been available to really achieve the Millennium Development Goals and more than that, many of the principled ideas that are in the Millennium Declaration itself had to go towards security, the war on terror, higher insurance premiums and all the rest so it is very difficult to try to recover that ground.

The situation we are now facing where Russia as a responsible guarantor of the international post-Second World War order has flagrantly violated the fundamental norms of peace and security must be a wake-up call around the world that we need to reform the international instruments we have for our protection. It is a nonsense that the five largest arms-exporting and producing countries in the world should be the ones who are guaranteeing our security.

3:30 pm

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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Hear, hear.

Mr. Francis M. O'Donnell:

Frankly, we cannot live in this post-Second World War time warp. We are in the 21st century so we should get with it. Ireland can play a role in this. If we can feel a passion for this and foreign affairs and have our Tánaiste, Taoiseach and President drive these sorts of messages home in as many fora as possible, perhaps a momentum can be built. I am sure there will be many people in other countries in the EU, Europe and beyond who will be willing to join it.

The question of media freedom is fundamentally important. We ought to have a free media. However, we have a problem in the west. What we increasingly see with globalisation are mergers and acquisitions, industry consolidation and large conglomerates taking over and pushing out small enterprise. It happens in agriculture, the retail sector, the communications industry and the media. Even in the US, about four or five media conglomerates largely dictate content - even on the small radio stations one tunes into as one drives along route 66. We have lost the diversity of small enterprise that ought to underpin the democracy of the economy. This is what I would call the down side of globalisation and something needs to be done about it either through anti-trust legislation or some measure to prevent the emergence of oligopoly in these different marketplaces. It is fundamental for democracy that we have a free press but it is also fundamental that we have diversity of opinion and freedom of expression and that it is accessible and can be expressed. When one has too few people controlling the vast empires that comprise the media world today, liberty is at risk.

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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I hesitate to interrupt Mr. O'Donnell's flow because it is very interesting but we must move on and I know some members must leave to go to a vote.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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We must go to a vote in the Seanad.

Photo of Eric ByrneEric Byrne (Dublin South Central, Labour)
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I ask the Chairman's indulgence. Could we get an answer about the presidential election? Could Mr. O'Donnell give me his analysis? What does he think can or will be achieved if it is allowed to take place? There is no more important aspect of democracy than parliamentary elections.

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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Before Mr. O'Donnell answers, I will accept a motion from the floor proposing that the issue of Ukraine be included in next week's agenda in the context of Mr. O'Donnell's submission. It would make for an interesting discussion at a subsequent meeting. I will do so in order to carry it forward and take on board the views expressed by Mr. O'Donnell and his first-hand information, which is most important, from somebody with actual experience of being there on the ground. Could Mr. O'Donnell give a quick answer to Deputy Byrne's question - if it is possible to give a quick answer to any of Deputy Byrne's questions?

Mr. Francis M. O'Donnell:

I think the election should go ahead to the extent that the central electoral commission and government of Ukraine consider it feasible to do so. In an ideal world, a parliamentary election might follow. Why would it be a problem to have parliamentary elections now? The country is in the midst of a crisis. It needs leadership at the top that is recognised as legitimate to drive all the processes forward that need to go forward. Since Russia's questioning of the legitimacy of the current regime is part of the problématique, this election should eliminate that issue from the public sphere and allow Ukraine to go forward at the political apex with a leadership that is recognised internationally.

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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I thank Mr. O'Donnell for his very interesting dissertation. It has been most informative and the members will be anxious to pursue the issues he raised in a very informed way. I again thank him for coming before the committee.

The joint committee went into private session at 3.47 p.m. and adjourned at 4 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 16 April 2014.