Tuesday, 15 April 2014
-----not just in history and geography but also in politics, and I am sure he is keenly concerned at the ongoing developments in that now dangerous part of the world. The Minister of State also has an interest in our national poet, W. B. Yeats, who, in the poem September 1913, referred to those who "fumble in a greasy till/And add the halfpence to the pence". The context of that phrase is amusing in the sense that this what is happening in respect of the response, or lack of response, by the European Union and the US to Mr. Putin. We are allowing commerce to win over principle and decency. I ask the Minister of State and his Government colleagues - and, in particular, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Eamon Gilmore - to ensure that Europe, in these dangerous days, take a serious, significant and proactive approach to the Russian invasion of part of Ukraine, rather than the tiptoe type of politics we have seen in recent months.
I have raised the situation in Ukraine in the House on a number of occasions in recent months because of my deep concern not only about what is happening but about what could happen. None of us was around when the Second World War started, but in the run-up to it all the experts said it could not happen. The world had seen the horrors of the First World War. The League of Nations assured everybody that there would be no repeat. There was international diplomacy and international appeasement of Hitler and Stalin, so the bully boys were facilitated. On this occasion we are witnessing a repeat. We are allowing Mr. Putin to do what he wishes. There has been a pathetic response from the West. There have been some limited sanctions providing for the disallowance of certain travel rights and certain manoeuvrings by a tiny number of Russian officials, but is this causing any scare, concern or second thoughts to Mr. Putin and his allies? Absolutely not.
They have trampled over the Crimea region and now, as we speak, the agents of Putin and his allies in Russia are hell-bent on causing mayhem, chaos and societal breakdown in another significant part of Ukraine.
We have to reflect on the question of who Mr. Putin is. He is certainly no Mikhail Gorbachev. He is a former KGB operative. Accordingly, he would not have obtained such a position without holding certain views - namely, that what an army wants, it gets. He is the person who proclaimed some years ago that the fall of the Soviet Union was one of the biggest geopolitical disasters of all time. This is his philosophical background. Politically, he is the person who has, shall we kindly say, rearranged democratic politics in Russia so he can hold the levers of power not just for one or two terms but for many. He is a strong leader who wishes to impose his will on the people of Ukraine.
The response from the EU, the United States and the West has simply been insignificant. Has it caused Mr. Putin to pause, reflect or become concerned? Absolutely not. There are billions of euro worth of Russian assets in the West which should be seized as part of the sanctions, or at least frozen, until Russian forces disengage from Ukraine. A strong signal from the West must be given that it will not allow these bully-boy tactics to prevail. Will the Minister of State, Deputy McGinley, convey to the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the need for a significant step-up in our, the EU’s and the general Western response to Mr. Putin and his allies. If one were a citizen of Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania or Poland, one would be deeply concerned by these developments in Ukraine. One would see the dark visions from 1930s Europe. This is not a skirmish but a serious international situation which must be responded to by the West in a serious and tough fashion.
I welcome this opportunity to speak about Ukraine.
Events in eastern Ukraine over recent days are a matter of grave concern. The actions of armed individuals in several cities there clearly represent a highly organised and co-ordinated attempt to destabilise the country and undermine the Government in Kiev. The Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade issued a statement yesterday in which he condemned these developments and called on the Russian Federation to publicly repudiate this illegal armed activity in Ukraine.
The concerns of the Government about the situation in Ukraine have been widely reflected among the public at large over recent months. Throughout every phase in this, we have worked closely with our partners in the European Union. I do not accept that Ireland or the EU has been weak in its response to the crisis in Ukraine. Our messages throughout this crisis have been strong, just as they have been consistent and clear. All member states have been, and are, united in their views that what has happened in Ukraine is completely unacceptable and that it will have consequences for our relations with Russia.
From the beginning, the EU has played an active role in trying to facilitate a resolution to the crisis in Ukraine. In addition to its scheduled meetings, the EU Foreign Affairs Council has met twice in extraordinary session to discuss the situation in Ukraine, and the EU Heads of State and Government also have discussed Ukraine in extraordinary session as well as during the regular meetings of the European Council. On 6 March, the Heads of State and Government set out a three-phase roadmap for targeted measures against the Russian Federation in the absence of steps to de-escalate the situation. They also endorsed the decision of foreign Ministers to suspend talks with Russia on visa matters and on a new agreement, both stated priorities of the Russian Government.
Following the holding of the referendum in Crimea, the Foreign Affairs Council implemented the second phase of measures involving the imposition of travel restrictions and an asset freeze against 21 Russian and Ukrainian officials involved in undermining Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity. The Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade yesterday participated in the Foreign Affairs Council in Luxembourg, where there was a detailed discussion of the crisis in Ukraine. Ministers decided to expand the list of those to whom visa bans and asset freezes will apply. Preparatory work continues on so-called phase three measures so that further steps can be taken should they be required. Ministers also agreed to send an expert mission to Ukraine to prepare for possible EU assistance in support of the police and the rule of law. Yesterday's Foreign Affairs Council also adopted a decision on macro-financial assistance for Ukraine, which brings the total amount of funding being made available by the EU to €1.6 billion. The support is part of a broader package of international support put together by the IMF, which is conditional on Ukraine's implementation of wide-ranging reforms.
The EU has consistently stressed the importance of maintaining open channels of communication with the Russian Federation. We welcome, therefore, the quartet talks involving Russia, the US, Ukraine, and the EU which are to take place in Geneva this week. The EU will continue its engagement in international facilitation initiatives involving the UN, the OSCE and others. Ireland is participating fully in these efforts. We sent an officer to the initial interim OSCE mission, we will be sending an officer to join the Polish-led second interim OSCE mission, and Irish personnel will take part in the main OSCE mission that has been agreed upon and is being put in place. Ireland has made it consistently clear that external pressure on Ukraine is unacceptable. In March, the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade personally expressed Ireland's condemnation of Russia's actions in Crimea to the Russian ambassador to Ireland and requested him to convey Ireland's deep concern to his government. Earlier this month, the Minister of State, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, moved a cross-party Dáil motion condemning the annexation of Crimea and Sevastopol to the Russian Federation and pledging solidarity with and support for Ukraine. Last week, in a meeting with a Russian Deputy Minister, the Minister of State, Deputy Joe Costello, reiterated in the clearest terms our position on Crimea and expressed concern for the Tatar and Ukrainian-speaking populations there, as well as other minority communities in Ukraine.
The Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade yesterday condemned the most recent provocations in eastern Ukraine which have led to loss of life. Also, the Foreign Affairs Council yesterday expressed strong support for the holding of free and fair presidential elections on 25 May. Ireland is sending a team of observers to Ukraine to help achieve that objective, one which will allow the Ukrainian people to determine their own future and help build trust across the country. It is in the interest of the entire region that a sovereign, prosperous, stable, democratic and inclusive Ukraine emerges from the current crisis.
The Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade does not accept that Ireland or the EU has been weak in its response to this crisis. I simply submit that the further activity and behaviour of the Russian authorities indicates that the Irish, EU and Western response has been totally inadequate. In conclusion, I will pose a question to which I do not, respectfully, expect a reply. If Ronald Reagan were President of the United States or Margaret Thatcher were Prime Minister of Britain now, would this be happening? I do not think so.