Statement to Seanad Éireann on Ukraine

17th April, 2014

I welcome this opportunity to speak about the crisis in Ukraine.


This is not a recent crisis. It began last November as hundreds and thousands of peaceful demonstrators took to the streets to protest against the decision of the authorities to postpone discussions with the EU on signature of the Association Agreement. I met some of these demonstrators myself in Maidan when I was in Kiev for the OSCE Ministerial meeting last December.


The development of the crisis since then has been extensively reported and we have all watched with increasing concern as the demonstrations were met with repressive and ultimately lethal force. Then, following the departure of former president Yanukovich, we have witnessed the seizure by Russian forces of a part of Ukrainian territory, the installation of a compliant local regime, the orchestration of an invalid referendum under a heavy military presence and the annexation of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol to the Russian Federation.


The events in eastern Ukraine over recent days are a matter of grave concern. The actions of masked and armed individuals seizing buildings in several cities there clearly represent a highly organised and coordinated attempt to destabilise the country and to undermine the Government in Kiev in advance of the presidential elections scheduled for 25 May. That Government has to be commended for the enormous restraint it has shown in the face of huge provocation and I would urge it to pursue a measured and proportionate response to the current difficulties.


In my address to Dáil Éireann two weeks ago, I set out the reasons why such developments should be of concern to Ireland and why we must take a strong view. For small countries, respect for the rule of law in the international system is fundamental to stability and to the well-being and prosperity of all nations.

We look to an international system based on democratic values, on cooperation not confrontation, a system that allows each country to determine its own future free of the external pressure and the threat or use of force. That is what is under threat in Ukraine today and why we must take a strong position on what has been happening there.


Throughout every phase in this crisis 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. I believe that our messages throughout this crisis have been strong, 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 outset, 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.


The Heads of State and Government on 6 March set out a three-phase roadmap in relation to 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 on 17 March 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 European Council, later that same week, added a further 12 names to this list. The Heads of State and Government also recalled that any further steps by the Russian Federation to destabilise the situation in Ukraine would have far reaching consequences for relations in a broad range of economic areas with the EU and its MemberStates.



The Tánaiste has strongly condemned the recent developments in eastern Ukraine. On Monday of this week he 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 and work is ongoing to implement this decision.


Preparatory work also continues on so-called Phase Three measures so that further steps can be taken should they be required. As the Taoiseach has made clear, given that such measures will have negative consequences for the European Union and its MemberStates, it is right that we prepare these decisions carefully. We continue to hope that further steps will not prove necessary. Our preference remains for a diplomatic and peaceful solution to the current crisis but there is a need to be prepared to act if necessary.


Last Monday’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 and conditioned on Ukraine’s implementation of wide-ranging reforms. Total international support has been estimated to amount to around €27 billion over the next two years.


Ireland and the EU, as a whole, 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 today.

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 one officer to the initial interim and another to the subsequent Polish-led second interim OSCE missions. One Irish person has been seconded to the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission agreed upon on 21 March and others are available should the mission be expanded as planned.


Ireland has made it consistently clear that external pressure on Ukraine is unacceptable. In March, the Tánaiste 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, I moved a cross-party motion in Dáil Éireann condemning the annexation of Crimea and Sevastopol to the Russian Federation and pledging solidarity and support for Ukraine.


And as I have said, the Tánaiste, earlier this week condemned the most recent provocations in eastern Ukraine which have led to loss of life.


The Foreign Affairs Council last Monday also 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.


Instability does not respect national frontiers and that is why I believe that it is in the interest of the entire region that a sovereign, prosperous, stable, democratic and inclusive Ukraine emerges from the current crisis. Ireland, together with our partners in the EU, will spare no effort in trying to bring this about.