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Joint Committee on European Union Affairs debate -
Wednesday, 2 Feb 2022

Potential Russia-Ukraine Conflict and the Role of the European Union: Discussion

Apologies have been received from Deputies McHugh and Brady and Senator Martin. On behalf of the committee, I welcome Professor Donnacha Ó Beacháin and Professor Ben Tonra to our meeting. I thank them for giving of their time and expertise. We look forward to engaging with them and hearing their expertise. We will engage on the potential Russia-Ukraine conflict and the role of the European Union in that regard.

Before we begin, I am obliged to deal with some housekeeping matters. Witnesses are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice that they should not criticise or make charges against any person or entity, by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable, or otherwise engage in speech that might be regarded as damaging of the person or entity. Therefore, if a witness’s statements are potentially defamatory - I am sure they are not - in relation to any identifiable person, they will be directed to discontinue their remarks. It is imperative that they comply with any such direction.

Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the House or an official, either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. I again remind members of the constitutional requirement that members must be physically present within in the confines of Leinster House in order to participate in public meetings. I will not permit members not adhering to this constitutional requirement to participate. Any member who attempts to participate from outside the precincts of the Leinster House campus will be asked to discontinue their remarks.

I call on Professor Ó Beacháin, who, I understand, is going first, to give his opening statement.

Professor Donnacha Ó Beacháin

I thank the committee for the invitation to participate in this meeting and for the opportunity to discuss the situation in Ukraine and Russia, with a focus on the role of the EU. I welcome the committee’s interest in this topic, and I am pleased to engage with members on this vital issue. Having conducted research in all 15 former Soviet republics over a period exceeding two decades, I am open to discussing the Kremlin’s relationship with other countries in the region as well. I will briefly review the role of the EU in its eastern neighbourhood through the prism of Russia and Ukraine, outlining their perspectives, motives, interests and part of its sphere of influence.

Official thinking in Moscow suggests that these former colonies cannot be treated as equals, or, indeed, as fully sovereign states with divergent interests. Among the political elite in Russia, there is a pervasive belief that Ukraine is not a fully independent country but, at best, a historical part of Russia and, at worst, a political Frankenstein, artificially stitched together during Soviet times and now sustained by Russia’s adversaries. From this perspective, if there is no separate Ukrainian people, how can they enjoy a right to self-determination?

When, at the Bucharest NATO summit in 2008, it seemed possible that Ukraine, along with Georgia, might obtain a membership action plan, an animated Vladimir Putin claimed that Ukraine was an artificial state. It was reported publicly that he had threatened to intervene in Crimea and eastern Ukraine in retaliation. Six years later, in his 2014 speech announcing the annexation of Crimea, Putin proclaimed: "it pains our hearts to see what is happening in Ukraine at the moment." He stated that Russians and Ukrainians were “one people” and that “we cannot live without each other.” Coming when it did, as Russian military forces invaded Ukraine, this does not seem like an expression of affection.

Like an abusive former spouse, the Kremlin maintained that it could not imagine being separated from Ukraine and that any violence meted out was only for the betterment of its errant partner. By invading Ukraine in 2014, the Kremlin flagrantly breached international agreements such as the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, part of which involved Ukraine giving up its Soviet-era nuclear weapons in return for a guarantee from Russia, the US and the UK to protect its security and territorial integrity.

The Kremlin argues that it is responding to provocations from NATO and the EU. According to this narrative of defence-motivated expansionism, Russia has seen NATO and the EU extend to its doorstep, undermining its traditional sphere of influence. This, however, is to invert the sequence of events. When the Cold War ended, there were many, not least within NATO itself, who questioned whether the organisation had a future. After all, it had been established to confront the Soviet Union. With the collapse of that adversary, it seemed NATO had lost its raison d’être. What injected the organisation with renewed vigour was the queue of former Soviet states and satellites requesting, nay demanding, entry under its protective umbrella. They feared, and recent events have certainly vindicated those fears, that the Kremlin’s weakness was temporary. Thus they sought to escape the abusive cycle of history while they could. Far from NATO or the EU aggressively seeking new members, they acquiesced to a concerted drive from ex-communist states to join. A small state like Estonia, with a population of just 1.3 million, of which at least a quarter are ethnic Russians, can rely on the EU and NATO to fend off the Kremlin’s covetous glances. The substantially larger Ukraine, however, is very much on its own.

The NATO–Russia Founding Act signed in 1997 committed Russia and NATO to respect "the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of all states and their inherent right to choose the means to ensure their own security”. Despite this, the Kremlin has fostered a narrative of betrayal, namely, that the West has reneged on promises and taken advantage of Russia when it was weak. The natural offshoot of this is that only firm leadership, as provided by Vladimir Putin, can reverse this trend. The Kremlin is demanding that NATO guarantee in perpetuity that it will never accept new members from eastern Europe. This would include, in the first instance, Ukraine and Georgia, but would also extend to countries such as EU member states Finland and Sweden. This would, in effect, allow Moscow to have a veto on who can join NATO. It is difficult to see how any international organisation or club would allow a third party to exercise such powers at the expense of aspirant states.

The Kremlin is also demanding that there be no NATO deployments in those member states that joined the organisation after 1997. This would include all those countries from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea and would create a two-tier NATO with first- and second-class members. The Kremlin also opposes Ukraine being afforded with the means to defend itself. The less Ukraine is able to protect itself, the better able the Kremlin will be to impose its will.

The Kremlin’s vocal articulation of its ultimatums, amplified by the menacing military build-up along Russia’s border with Ukraine, is designed to undermine the ambitions of its neighbours for greater integration with Euro-Atlantic structures. It also seeks to demonstrate Russian capabilities against NATO assets in the region and to test the unity and resolve of the EU. While the focus has been on NATO, Moscow is also opposed to its neighbours joining the European Union. Indeed, it was the prospect of a closer relationship with the EU that precipitated the crisis in 2013 which culminated with the Kremlin’s annexation of Crimea and intervention in Donbas.

Roughly translated, the Kremlin’s position is that its insecurities can only be assuaged when it is surrounded by weak dependencies that are not part of any supportive alliance such as the EU or NATO. However, the Kremlin in no way tries to mitigate the insecurities of the smaller states in the region that have traditionally been the victims of Kremlin-sponsored aggression. Armed with nuclear weapons, Russia is well-protected against military attack. What the Kremlin fears is not invasion, but rather losing its influence in what it considers the near abroad. Political elites in Russia see themselves as rivals to, rather than partners of, the European Union. Conversely, many in Ukraine see the European Union as a means to escape from the Kremlin's shadow.

During the past century or so, Ukraine’s history has been punctuated by civil conflict, world wars, tyranny, gulags and famine. Yet somehow, miraculously, it has come out at the other end. Little wonder that the national anthem proclaims defiantly that “Ukraine is not dead yet”. When we see the summitry between Vladimir Putin and Joe Biden, we can sometimes lose sight of the fact that 40 million people live in Ukraine and that they are at the centre of this crisis. It is they who suffer as a result of this calamity and, if the situation deteriorates, it is their lives and livelihoods at stake, not those of political figures in Moscow, Brussels, or Washington. Indeed, it has been a source of frustration for many Ukrainians to see their fate discussed at international summits without any representative from their country. For as the old saying goes, “if you are not at the table, you are probably on the menu”.

When I first went to live and work in the former Soviet Union more than two decades ago, Ukraine was not petitioning for membership of NATO or the European Union and most people were content with its status of a militarily non-aligned state. Most Ukrainians were neither pro-Russia nor pro-NATO; they simply pro-Ukraine. How Ukrainians appraise what is best for their country has changed dramatically during the past decade. The vast majority now see the Kremlin as a determined adversary that has killed many of their compatriots, occupies a substantial part of their country and maintains a constant threat of further military aggression. At the same time, they feel their allies are comparatively indifferent and irresolute and have been unable to demonstrate a level of support that might deter the Kremlin. As a result, Ukraine is in a difficult place. Although at the heart of Europe and bordering the EU, many in Ukraine fear they are not viewed as a country worth defending with the same degree of solidarity and determination as other parts of Europe. It is as if we have somehow placed them psychologically outside of Europe and in the Kremlin’s sphere of influence.

The European Union's greatest achievement is also the one we take most for granted. After Europe was repeatedly torn asunder by aggressive expansionist regimes, the EU played a vital role in healing the wounds and ensuring that common values and ever-increasing interdependency made war within its borders inconceivable. Over the decades, the EU has had a magnetic pull on its neighbours. Since 2004, the organisation has had 13 new members join. Of those, 11 are former communist authoritarian regimes which, like Ukraine, had been subordinated to the Kremlin. Today, we speak about Ukraine, but the issues at stake, while affecting Ukrainians acutely, are not confined to Ukraine; they are central to the future of Europe. Fundamentally, it is about freedom and the right of states and peoples to determine their own political destiny free from the threat of military aggression. I look forward to engaging with committee members on these issues.

I thank Professor Ó Beacháin. We will open the floor for discussion after we hear from Professor Tonra, whom I now invite to deliver his opening statement.

Professor Ben Tonra

What is most threatening about today's crisis as Russia threatens Ukraine is that the negotiations to try and resolve the tensions are largely taking place between Moscow and Washington. In Europe’s greatest security crisis since the Yugoslav wars, the EU, at least institutionally, is more a bystander than an actor. The European Union struggles to define a coherent position. All members agreed on three things: that Russia’s invasion, occupation, and annexation of Crimea cannot stand, that Russian destabilisation of eastern Ukraine is unacceptable and that Russian demands to subvert the sovereignty of its neighbours cannot be accepted. Beyond that, however, European agreement tends to dissipate. Each EU member state, no more than our own, brings its own geography, history and values to bear in defining its foreign policy. The EU is a unique experiment in attempting to draw that geography and those histories together in pursuit of shared democratic values and interests. Russia’s aggression towards Ukraine, however, throws European divisions into sharp contrast.

The EU has had some successes. EU foreign ministers have met, reaffirmed their opposition to Russia’s attempt to re-create dividing lines and spheres of influence and agreed on a collective diplomatic approach towards Russia and the outline of hard-hitting sanctions if these become necessary. There is also close co-ordination between Europe and the US, bilaterally and through NATO, on what might and what cannot be part of a diplomatic solution. The EU has also increased financial assistance to Ukraine and has allocated more than €17 billion to the country since 2014. A new €1.2 billion assistance plan of emergency loans and grants has just been announced.

The new European peace facility is being used to assist the Ukrainian army. Assistance is also being funded to counter Russian disinformation campaigns and repeated cyberattacks. Yet, European Union countries continue to differ on how they see the threat and on how best to respond. Russia looks very different, depending on whether you are sitting in Dublin or in Riga. NATO has reinforced its deployments in its own member states, such as Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia, while Spain, Belgium and the Netherlands have sent military support to Ukraine. Germany, on the other hand, is proceeding to open the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, has blocked arms exports from other EU countries to Ukraine and has instead offered to send helmets and medical supplies. Finland and Sweden have, for their part, stepped up their military co-operation and preparedness and debates about their co-operation with, and even membership of, NATO have intensified.

What does this mean for Ireland? It means that we need to take security and defence in Europe more seriously. Obviously, that starts at home with our upcoming debate on the forthcoming report of the Commission on the Defence Forces. It means listening more carefully to the security concerns of our EU partners, just as they listen to our security concerns with respect to Brexit. It means calling out aggression. It means defending the rule of law and existing treaties and, finally, it means Ireland contributing more seriously to debates on EU foreign, security and defence policy, bringing its own values and interests to bear.

I also look forward to the questions and conversation to come.

I thank Professor Tonra. I will open the discussion to members. There is a rich array of issues to discuss. I will take members in the order they indicated. Deputy Richmond is first. He will be followed by Deputy Calleary.

I thank both professors for their very insightful presentations and their wider commentary. I was about to use the phrase "over recent days" but they have both been talking about this for quite some time, long before the most recent escalation activities. I will ask them both a couple of questions to begin. I then have individual questions for each of them that follow on from their presentations. In their opinion, what is the degree of Irish exposure to contagion in the case of an escalation of the situation? Things have eased off, we hope, in the past couple of days. A lot of focus was given to military activities in the Irish exclusive economic zone, but what will the contagion be if there were to be military intervention, a bombing campaign or even a land invasion? How could that impact on Ireland? Professor Tonra touched on this a little when he referred to disinformation campaigns and cyberattacks, which we know all about in this jurisdiction.

The second more general question is on the scope for Irish activity either at Government level or, more importantly, parliamentary level, because this is a committee of Parliament, to engage with European partners to address the concerns both witnesses raised in quite some detail. We are looking towards the next Conference of Community and European Affairs Committees of Parliaments of the European Union meeting in a couple of months' time in Paris. What role should parliamentarians be playing in the European debate? We talk about the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence discussing foreign policy and defence co-operation more widely but, in respect of a European scope, it seems any time we talk about defence, and shared interests and security, in the European Union, we very quickly go down the rabbit hole of concerns about the militarisation of the EU and opposition to a European army. While that may make for a good slogan, it does not help us to actually address the very live and real concerns that are on our doorstep.

I have two more specific questions. Professor Ó Beacháin mentioned the 13 former Soviet states he worked in and the Russian role in each of them, which was highlighted in Kazakhstan in recent weeks. He and Professor Tonra hit on one area of particular interest and that is the reaction and response in Finland in particular but also in Sweden to the ongoing escalation. This committee visited Finland during the lifetime of the previous Oireachtas. We had good engagement with our counterparts. It is a country of similar standing and we have a number of shared interests. In the Brexit debates, Finland was a surprisingly strong supporter of all Irish interests. It also shares many military interests with this State, as does Sweden. There was a lot of talk at the start of the pandemic about how Finland had an amazing emergency response unit because it had been preparing for emergency for its entire existence in fear of an invasion or a military attack and not necessarily a pandemic. What are the learnings for Ireland from the approach of Finland and, more important, what support do the likes of Finland and Sweden need from a like-minded country such as Ireland?

My final point is a more general one for Professor Tonra. He will forgive me for saying that it is a point I have heard him make a few times, going back to my time at University College Dublin, to be quite frank, which relates to the limitations of Europe in respect of the ambition for a common security and defence policy. He referred to it again in his presentation and he refers to it with great regularity. Do we simply have to accept that there is only so far we can go? Is the move the EU has made over the past few years with the last treaty in this area, and the appointment of a higher representative, as good as it gets? Ultimately, will member states' concerns, and he cited the example of Germany quite succinctly, trump most areas if it is a case of one or the other?

I will go back to my original second question. Where does this then go for us as parliamentarians who work across a European network in highlighting that this is a concern? Deputy Ó Murchú and I, along with others, are part of the Conference on the Future of Europe. We talk about these issues. There is a desire to talk about how the EU can solve all problems, but what are the realistic approaches, especially in the area of what could be called defence or security, but is really more about providing that peace of mind to European citizens, particularly when we are facing this new wave of threats from state and non-state actors? How do we have that discussion at a national and European level in a way that can lead to some form of strengthening of capabilities?

Professor Ben Tonra

What is Ireland's exposure? There is a generic and a specific aspect. On the generic, small states in the international system do not have a lot of power and, therefore, have to rely on the rule of law. Otherwise, they could be subject to the rule of force. There is a generic, principled interest in the defence of international treaties, international norms and international law. What we have seen with respect to Russia and Ukraine is a serious abuse of existing treaties and agreements and an ongoing failure on the part of the Russian Federation to respect agreements it solemnly signed going as far back as the end of the Cold War. That generic point is very germane and important.

On the specific, in respect of an accelerated conflict - there is ongoing conflict already - between Russia and Ukraine, there are multiple nightmare scenarios of death and destruction in Europe, divisions and fractures in the European Union, migration flows and military implications for Europe that threaten Ireland's basic interests entirely beyond looking at the economics of trade, gas flows, energy security and all the other things that flow from it. We are looking at something quite cataclysmic. I do not think people are exercising hyperbole when they talk about this as the biggest security threat Europe has faced since the Yugoslav wars.

The role of the Parliament and parliamentary committees such as this, and the key attribute they bring, is the capacity to listen and to inform. This committee genuinely has the capacity, for example, to talk to members in the Baltic states in particular and in central and eastern Europe, to get a sense of what their concerns and interests are and what they need us to do. I have had a couple of interactions with ambassadors over the past number of weeks who have asked me about Ireland's position. A couple of them have expressed genuine concern that they have not heard stronger statements coming from a senior level at Iveagh House about what has been going on. There have been generic expressions of concern, but there is a genuine question about why we are not hearing more, and more robustly, when Ireland is so invested in the kinds of security structures and agreements that Russia has been abusing. That parliamentary role of informing and listening to our partners is critical.

In respect of the specific question that was addressed, which goes right back to my own bailiwick, there is a paradox at the heart of this. The 27 member states tell us that they want a European Union that speaks strongly with one voice, but at one and the same time those member states will not give the European Union the institutions, capacity or responsibility to undertake that.

There is a very obvious reason for this, which is that the European Union is not a sovereign. It is not a state and there is no prospect on the immediate horizon of it becoming a federal state. Therefore, there is no political hierarchy. In the absence of a sovereign, there can be no European army. The European Union cannot act like Russia, China or the United States of America.

We have a phrase in political science, forgive me, but we talk about the reification of states, that is, talking about states as if they were people. We use phrases like "Germany feels" or "Russia wants" but that is not true; we know that it is governments and political leaders we are talking about. We do that at an even worse level with the European Union because we talk about it as if it is a country and as if it can do things on an executive level that it simply cannot do. It is a polity of 27 sovereign member states. Until those member states, individually and collectively, decide that they want the European Union to have the kind of capacity that they say they want it to have, it simply is not going to happen.

Is this as good as it gets? There is an obvious glass half full, glass half empty kind of argument to this. When I started looking at EU foreign policy co-operation back in the day, the sum total of that co-operation was quarterly meetings of foreign ministers. That was it. Four times a year foreign ministers sat down and they had a chat. When one compares that with where we are today, with the High Representative-Vice President, HRVP, the European external action service and all that comes with that, one can see that huge progress has been made. However, there is a question as to how much better this can get until member states make that profound decision as to whether they want the EU truly to be a sovereign-like actor in the international system. Without acceptance or agreement, that simply cannot happen, and, in the interim, we impose expectations on the EU that it simply cannot fulfil.

There is another issue about which I am concerned. We heard Josef Borrell, the HRVP, talking about the EU being able to speak the language of power. We also heard Ursula von der Leyen talk about the new European Commission being a geopolitical commission. There is a danger there because such talk accelerates and exacerbates this capabilities/expectations gap. The European Union cannot speak the language of power unless 27 sovereign member states let it and they will not do so.

Professor Donnacha Ó Beacháin

Just to add to that, it is imperative that we emphasise the fact that the EU does not act with one voice. That is something that Russia has tried to take advantage of over the years in different ways. The main drivers of EU policy towards Russia have been varied and are dependent on individual member states. The size of states is relevant. As Professor Tonra mentioned, small states have particular priorities. Small states like Estonia and Latvia do particularly well within the European Union because they can use the European institutions, potentially, to drive their point home. This is an issue which is of much more relevance to countries that border the Russian Federation.

That brings me to the second point which is that the geographic location of individual member states also has an impact on what kind of policies they try to get the EU to adopt. Their own historical development is also relevant. There is a huge difference between how countries in the Baltic region and eastern Europe generally approach Russia and countries west of a certain line. Russia is aware of those divisions and has tried to replace conversations with the EU, as an institution, with bilateral arrangements where it can. Germany, as has been mentioned; is a classic example of that. It was after the annexation of Crimea in 2014 that most of the progress on Nord Stream 2 was made. The pipeline has only been completed in relatively recent times. The Kremlin has supported different parties and factions within the European Union, including Euro-sceptic, far-right and populist parties, that have sowed division. That has been a particular policy.

When it comes to the question of Irish exposure if there was an invasion, the first thing one would have to address is the type of invasion we are talking about and there are several possible scenarios. One would be a full-scale invasion but I think that is unlikely. Whatever about the appetite, the digestion would not be good from a Russian military perspective. A country of 40 million people would be an awful lot to occupy and there would be a severe risk for Russia of a backlash within the Russian Federation itself. Domestically, it would not be a popular war so I do not think that is what we are talking about. We are, therefore, probably looking a partial expansion from the base which Russia enjoys at the moment in Ukraine. Another possibility, which has not achieved much attention but which is there, under the radar, and which may actually be kept in reserve, is the recognition of Luhansk and Donetsk as independent states. The Duma in Russia is going to discuss this matter later this month. A motion has been put down before parliament and of course, it would follow the practice that we saw in Georgia in 2008 where Abkhazia and South Ossetia were recognised. That would then put an end to the whole negotiation process on the conflict zones in south eastern Ukraine and the EU has not really thought through what its response would be in that event. The sanctions that are being mentioned at the moment are very general but as we have seen, sanctions have not, until recently anyway, seemed to modify the behaviour of the Kremlin in any respect. There would have to be a very clear articulation of what those sanctions would be so that the Kremlin would be able to estimate the cost of pursuing its policies militarily.

On the question of what Ireland could be exposed to in terms of cyberwarfare, one would only have to ask the Estonians. In 2007, when a Soviet-era statue was moved, on the initiative of local government, from the centre of the city to a military graveyard, the Estonian Government, which is very dependent on e-government, was exposed to intense cyberwarfare over a couple of days which disabled its ability to communicate with its citizenry. Obviously, that is unlikely to happen in the Irish case but it shows what is possible for small states that incur the wrath of the Kremlin. Ireland, of course, is not a member of NATO. That is something that is particularly valued in Russia, and it has tended to emphasise that in its relations with Ireland.

Finland has a different type of non-military-alliance status but it does have conscription. It has an historical experience with Russia which is very different from Ireland's experience. A part of Finnish territory, Karelia, was occupied as a result of the war in 1939 or 1940. I am not sure the Finnish experience is one that we can really transfer because geography really dictates the relationship, but certainly how the Finns can have an armed or more meaningful neutrality is an ongoing source of comparison.

Deputy Calleary is next.

I welcome both of our guests. I welcome Professor Tonra in particular. It is 30 years since he lectured me and gave me a workshop on the politics of European security. It seems that the more things change, the more they remain the same.

Professor Tonra spoke about the limitations of the EU and I tend to agree that it has been very much a bystander. Is there anything, within those limitations, that it can be doing a lot better? In fairness, he outlined a pretty serious programme of actions that the EU has undertaken, many of which were unknown to me. Is there anything that the EU can be doing with its moral authority in particular? In the context of the remarks about the limitations, one hears about Putin, Biden, Macron or Johnson but one never hears Ursula von der Leyen's name in the context of driving this or driving any particular agenda around it.

Professor Ó Beacháin spoke about his work in 15 former Soviet republics over the past 20 years. In his view, with that experience and work behind him, are we at a more unstable time in Europe than we have been for some time or does it just seem that way? That question is also for Professor Tonra who has been working in this space for a long time too.

Professor Donnacha Ó Beacháin

To the question of whether we are in a more unstable period, the answer is "Yes". The Cold War had a certain rigidity to it. There was an understanding that the Iron Curtain was a permanent feature of the European security landscape. This meant that when the uprising happened in Hungary or the Prague Spring occurred in 1968 and Soviet troops were pushed in to suppress these democratically inspired uprisings, there was nothing the West was going to do. That was quite clear.

At the same time, Russia's intentions were to legitimise its landgrab after the Second World War and it achieved that, in a way, with the Helsinki Final Act of 1975. There were certain rules that were respected. Russia was a conservative power within Europe in terms of land and territory. It was trying to conserve the status quo and gets its achievements after the Second World War recognised.

Now it is a revisionist power. It does not have international borders, as other states do, but rather blurred margins. It has given itself a right to intervene on behalf of, for example, Russian citizens who have found themselves, in the Kremlin's view, on the wrong side of the border after the collapse of the Soviet Union. From a Kremlin perspective, the collapse of the Soviet Union was not one event but instead is almost like an ongoing process, and there have been some rectifications the Kremlin has tried to put in place. Sometimes we talk about a new cold war, but it is important to emphasise that Russia is not the Soviet Union in terms of capabilities. We often forget that. The Russian economy is smaller than that of Italy and its population is substantially less than that of Nigeria. Its willingness to use force against its neighbours is what gives it that prowess. That willingness, to return to the Deputy's question, makes the current security environment more unstable.

Professor Ben Tonra

When Deputy Calleary and I were last directly engaging some years ago, European security looked very different. We were talking about a Europe whole and free at the time, and that is very significantly under threat now. As for what Europe as a whole could do, we have to return to an earlier point. Josep Borrell travelled to Moscow as the High Representative and was roundly humiliated by his Russian interlocuters. I do not know the individual psychologies or the precise details of the events but it was visible that the Russians did not take him or the European Union seriously as an interlocuter or actor. Part of that relates, as Professor Ó Beacháin said, to self-interest. The Russians do not wish to see the European Union in pole position on this. They want to deal directly with Washington because they want to see themselves on a par with Washington. Dealing with the European Union as an equal is, for them, a downgrade.

On moral authority, there is much literature on this, as the Deputy well knows. We talk about normative power Europe and the power of European values, but those values rest on material power. The Union has material power in respect of trade and economics, although it is much more limited in terms of diplomacy and has effectively none in the military sphere. There is a genuine policy question to be grappled with, namely, whether we want the Union to have material power across all realms. Perhaps we do not, and there may be good arguments for that, but we then have to accept the Union's limitations as an international actor that come as a result of that, and witness the European Union being marginalised in the way the Russians have successfully marginalised it to date.

President Putin referred to the end of the Soviet Union as a great strategic tragedy. This comes to the Deputy's question about whether we are now at a more dangerous point. Putin is, in effect, attempting to roll back the end of the Cold War and to re-establish Russia's sphere of influence. He is attempting to return Russia to a place of global pre-eminence alongside the United States, as two global nuclear powers. For him, a strengthened Europe is an impediment to that goal. In that regard, we are indeed in more unstable and more dangerous times. One can have an entire conversation about what went wrong. From the time at which I was lecturing in Trinity College Dublin, TCD, when we were talking about partnership with Russia, Russia coming into the European family, Gorbachev talking about a European home, we can have a conversation about what went wrong with respect to that and where the blame rests, but we are now at a point where the prospect of some new kind of curtain falling across Europe is certainly on the Russian agenda.

I was going to start by pointing out how good a student Deputy Calleary was, and I might have even asked about Deputy Richmond but I always assumed he was best in class, or at least that is the story he has sold. We could go all over the place debating foreign policy but we will not go there. Deputy Calleary asked how far the European Union can go within the constraints. I acknowledge it is slightly different from the point of view of the vaccine roll-out, whereby there was not a national competence and the EU, because it was in everybody's interest, was able to do business, for want of a better term.

Best case scenario, there is a diplomatic solution to this. There is always a wee bit of doubt, but while invasion is possible, we all probably do not expect it to happen. Our guests spoke about some of the issues I wanted to ask about. Vladimir Putin is President, and there will be a number of people who believe their clock was wiped at the end of the Cold War and they will use whatever means they can as leverage. On one level, going up against Vladimir Putin is like going up against the local drug dealer. He has greater leverage because he is willing to burn your house down. The real question, however, concerns how many houses he is willing to burn down. Dictators do not tend to improve with time. These might be decisions we do not necessarily like but they are logical. The Russians are willing to play games in the Balkans and throughout Europe and to do what they are doing here. They are involved throughout Syria and the wider Middle East and, obviously, they have economic engagements in places I am not even aware of.

I acknowledge they do not have a crystal ball, but where do our guests think Vladimir Putin is in this context and how far is he willing to go? There was some conversation earlier about Ireland being a weak point, some of which relates to the Commission on the Defence Forces and the fact we lack certain capacity even to exist as a neutral state. That is something that needs to be answered outside of this committee. This is not just about our fear in respect of cybersecurity, and there was the HSE attack. Beyond that, there was a belief that some of the criminal elements that were involved could almost be called sub-contractors, given they may operate for a particular state we may have recently mentioned. We will always be up against that sort of capacity. That is difficult to take on and it will have to happen at an international level. There was also the implied threat of actions in the exclusive economic zone to cut the communication cables for a significant portion of Europe. How weak are we in that regard?

Professor Donnacha Ó Beacháin

I might take the first part, on Putin generally and how far he is willing to go. He sees himself, as Professor Tonra noted, as a rival to the European Union and he has tried to set up rival structures. For example, he has set up the Eurasian Economic Union, which is an attempt to mimic, in a diluted form, what the European Union has managed to achieve economically. There is NATO and he has set up a Collective Security Treaty Organization, which was in use in Kazakhstan recently, and Russian troops were also called into the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh. What he is arguing is that he will be an arbiter in these issues. The Deputy put it well when he compared him to a drug dealer. He has his own bailiwick and he wants others to respect it, and he will have complete authority within that.

As the Deputy stated, dictators do not age well. There is no exit strategy that we can see for Vladimir Putin. He has changed the Russian constitution in a way that means he could stay in power for a long period. The rival club he has tried to set up is based on very different values. We looked at Kazakhstan recently, for example. It is a kindred dictatorship. Of course, it has differences with Russia, economically and whatnot, but it has a similar type of regime. It is like a mutual support group in a way. The European Union, on a normative level and a values level, challenges that system. As regards how far Putin is willing to go, I would say it is a far as he is allowed to go because, ultimately, as I stated, even though he has shown a willingness to use force, his resources are not those of the European Union - far from it - or, indeed, the West collectively. He has proven to be a gambler but a very cautious one. If one considers the wars he has chosen, Chechnya was the first.

Professor Ó Beacháin does not believe Putin has gone off the deep end.

Professor Donnacha Ó Beacháin

Not at all. Chechnya, for example, was a very popular war. It was very early in his presidency and he learned early on that he could derive political dividends from a winnable, manageable and popular war. Similarly, Georgia in 2008 was a five-day war that also was popular domestically. He got what he wanted strategically. Of course, we know what happened in the context of Crimea and Donbas in 2014. That is why I was saying that in terms of the options open to him with Ukraine, Ukraine is the end. Donbas is the means to act as a lever and the ultimate objective is to prevent Ukraine departing from that sphere of influence and joining Euro-Atlantic structures and using those conflict regions as levers to exert pressure. It is about identifying the pressure points. I do not think it would be in his interests to inaugurate a full-scale war in Ukraine.

Professor Ben Tonra

The Deputy asked a really good question. The only evidence I have in respect of how far Putin wants to go is that the things he has asked for are genuinely impossible. They cannot be delivered or anything like them because it would create a neighbourhood of sort of sub-sovereign states all along Russia's borders. The committee members have all been involved in negotiations. One has to consider what is in the mindset of a person who asks for that which cannot be given. Where do you go from there in terms of negotiations? Professor Ó Beacháin has spoken to more important points in that context.

I wish to touch on the point of the logic the Deputy also raised. It is somewhat perverse because from a Russian perspective, what it is actually achieving is the reverse of what it should want in logical and rational terms. For example, it is creating a conversation in Finland and Sweden about NATO membership and closer relations. It is driving the Germans away from Nord Stream 2, with all the pressure that others are putting on. One has to ask what is the perversity of the logic that is going on there. It comes to the Deputy's point about dictatorships, because Putin is not afraid of NATO. He knows NATO does not pose a threat to the Russian Federation but what do pose a threat - not to the Russian Federation but to Vladimir Putin - are democratic revolutions. That is his terror. We can have a whole different conversation about the extent to which the West - the liberal democratic world - was promoting democracy and freedom across the Continent of Europe and that, for Putin, is a genuine threat. To my mind, that is what he is fighting. That is what he is trying to prevent.

As regards Ireland and a weak point, I heard the Deputy's colleague, the Sinn Féin spokesperson on defence, speaking very well on "Morning Ireland" earlier. It is precisely the issue raised by his colleague. It is precisely that we do not even know what is happening in our airspace and seas. We do not know because we do not have the very basic equipment to do so. This has prompted and is contributing to a healthy conversation about Ireland's defence and security capacity, with whom we co-operate and when.

On a final point - I hope I do not cause offence - I refer to the international reportage on Irish fishermen taking on Moscow. It was portrayed as a cute or funny story in the US media. It was also embarrassing and a little bit shameful.

I am not too sure I can comment on Professor Tonra's last statement regarding our fishing men and fleets and their take on the recent events. I thank our guests for their presentations. It is clear that the EU lacks real hard power or any diplomatic muscle here. What role could an autonomous EU military capacity play in combating Russian aggression in Ukraine? What framework would have to be put in place for such a force to be established? What issues of national sovereignty would be involved in establishing such a force? In the event of a Russian invasion of Ukraine, what role would the EU play in helping to put boots on the ground, that is, bolstering the Ukrainian defences? There is an EU package of €1.2 billion to Ukraine, but is there anything else the EU can do?

Professor Ben Tonra

Those are terrific questions, but the answers to them are very short, I regret to say.

It is a good thing.

Professor Ben Tonra

In my view, there can be no autonomous EU military capacity. The EU is not a sovereign; it is composed of 27 sovereign member states. If those 27 sovereign member states choose to come together and provide a collective defence, which is one of their declared ambitions, they may do so, but it will be a defence that rests in the hands of 27 sovereign member states. The answer to the Senator's second question is almost equally short. The EU has no capacity to put boots anywhere because it does not have any boots.

As we are all putting our academic credentials on the table, I will declare that I studied international relations in TCD under Professor Patrick Keatinge in the 1980s and had robust discussions with him on Irish neutrality. At that time, there was the Falklands War, the rise of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and so forth. It was a very interesting time in my life.

I have a couple of questions for Professor Ó Beacháin first. Coming in so late in the discussion, some of the questions I prepared have been asked. I wanted to ask about Russia and the threat of EU liberal democratic values. Professor Tonra has answered on that issue but I will put it to Professor Ó Beacháin as well. To what extent is Russia not afraid in the context of security and defence matters but, rather, is afraid of the rise of EU liberal democratic values? I know Professor Tonra answered that question but perhaps Professor Ó Beacháin will answer it as well.

What is his view on the Russian military exercises? Was it a threat? Was it meant to intimidate or was it a story that was blown out of all proportion? I know the former chief of staff of the Defence Forces, Vice Admiral Mark Mellett, said it was meant to threaten and intimidate. I would be interested to hear the views of Professor Ó Beacháin on what was behind the decision to hold these military exercises that are taking place this week, I understand.

What is Professor Ó Beacháin's understanding of the cyberattack on the HSE? Who carried it out? I heard Professor Tonra say that there is a bit of unhappiness about the Irish response to Ukraine specifically or to Russia in general. I have sat beside the Taoiseach in the Dáil Chamber, including when he was leader of the Opposition, for many discussions on statements pre- or post-European Council meetings and I know he is a staunch critic of Russia and all the various things it has been doing through the years. Does Professor Ó Beacháin consider that has anything to do with the cyberattack? Is Russia out to get Ireland in any way or was it purely a criminal act with no direct or indirect link to the Russian Government?

I will move to my questions for Professor Tonra. Nobody has mentioned the so-called strategic compass this morning. What is his understanding of that? At the conclusion of his presentation, Professor Tonra stated that Ireland will be bringing its own values and interests to bear in that context. I hear what he has been saying all morning, but does the strategic compass give him any hope for dealing with the challenges we have outlined? I am not saying I agree with all the views he has articulated, but does he think the strategic compass has the capacity to improve the situation as far as the EU is concerned?

Could the witnesses comment on the so-called Normandy framework involving Russia, France, Germany and Ukraine? I understood that Russia was happy to use that process to deal with the Ukraine crisis. Is it just sowing division between the EU and the US?

My next question concerns Germany. I know we cannot refer to Germany as a person so what is the new Chancellor Olaf Scholz up to? What is his strategy relating to Russia and the EU? Is he falling between two stools? The witnesses said he has given the go-ahead for the Nord Stream 2 pipeline and blocked exports to Ukraine. Is he trying to play both sides or is he slowly coming round to the EU perspective on this issue?

There is a broad spectrum of questions.

Professor Donnacha Ó Beacháin

On the issue of cyberattacks and whether Russia was out to get Ireland, I must confess that I have no evidence to suggest it was or it was not. I think this is a matter for the security forces and An Garda Síochána. I would not be able to comment on that.

On the substantial point about the extent to which the liberal democratic project is perceived as a threat, this is at the heart of this. I lived in the post-Soviet space when that wave of colour revolutions occurred in the mid-2000s, the first of which was the Rose Revolution in Georgia and which was followed by the Orange Revolution in Ukraine and the Tulip Revolution in Kyrgyzstan. I wrote a book and a number of articles about that. It took the Kremlin very much by surprise and there was a downturn in relations between the Kremlin and the EU and the west generally from that period onwards because the Kremlin's narrative was that these were foreign-sponsored attempts at coups d'état. The suggestion was that, therefore, they were trying to depopulate the post-Soviet space of those kind of regimes to which Russia has strong attachments and possibly aiming at Russia itself. What we learned from that is that those regimes fell for many reasons. It was not even primarily due to any external support. That view would, of course, deprive the people who were protesting of any agency. It was often the strength of the regime itself that was a factor. Georgia and Kyrgyzstan had very weak regimes. Sometimes it was simply the failure of the state rather than the strength of the opposition. The opposition often had to be there, had to be organised and had to be allowed to organise and there had to be a strong civil society, media and NGOs. That was there in places like Georgia and Ukraine, where they had competitive systems. Even though they were not perfect in terms of democratic credentials, they had a competitive system. What we know now is that not only do democratic movements learn from each other, so do authoritarian states. Dictatorships also have a learning curve. What they realised was that they had to shore up those vulnerable areas. We then saw a raft of repressive legislation being brought stultifying the ability of any independent media or NGOs to develop. That all originates from 2005 and 2006 onwards.

It is very much that fear of some kind of democratic popular movement that animates Vladimir Putin's actions in the region. That is at the heart of why Ukraine is so important. It is important to stress the difference between regimes because we often lump them together in the post-Soviet space. Ukraine has had five or six different presidents in the past 15 or 20 years, while only one man has been in charge in Moscow. It is the Kremlin's narrative that Ukraine is a failure because of its political system and should be more like Russia so a successful Ukraine would be a challenge to that important Kremlin narrative.

Professor Ben Tonra

I am sorry our paths did not cross in Trinity College back in the day. My first publication was a book chapter written with Patrick Keatinge on Ireland and the Falklands crisis. That is how far back I am going as well. The question regarding the strategic compass is a really good one. It emphasises something really important. The reason they are trying to develop this strategic compass is precisely to address the issue I identified at the start, which is this loss of understanding and appreciation of everybody else's security situation. We call this a lack of a strategic consensus in Europe - the fact that we see Russia differently in Dublin than they do in Riga. The strategic compass is a mechanism to try to get member states to think more profoundly about each other's security concerns and take them on board in the way they deal with their own issues. I am slightly jaded in the mid-later point in my career in terms of what this can actually deliver, but it is part of that incremental iterative process of building up consensus within the EU as to what kind of international actor the EU should be.

The Deputy's point about the Normandy framework is spot on. The reason the Russians like the Normandy framework is because they are dealing with national capitals. They are not dealing with the EU bilaterally one to one. They do not want to deal with the EU bilaterally one to one because they know they are outgunned hugely in terms of economic and moral authority. If they keep the conversation on the military and security side, they do not have to talk to the EU because the EU does not have any capacity in the security and military sphere.

Regarding the new German Chancellor, fair is fair, the man is only getting his feet under the desk. He has a coalition to manage. There are very different and wide-ranging views within his party and between his party and the Green party, particularly in terms of how to deal with Russia. Again, we come back to two things about Germany. One is the centrality of its economic interests, which we see most visibly in terms of its reaction on Nord Stream 2, and the second involves Germany's sensitivity regarding military issues, defence and doing anything that evokes echoes of its own tragic history. In dealing with all that, Germany will inevitably be a laggard or on the back foot. If it chooses to work with its European partners, Germany can do a lot in terms of building that collective European perspective but I do not underestimate the challenge involved in the EU doing that because we all have such different perspectives and coming up with a single European ideal and purpose is really challenging.

I was in the Dáil earlier. All politics is local so I was dealing with that so I missed most of the discussion for which I sincerely apologise. I did not hear the discussion about academic qualifications but I will gloss over that issue. I genuinely mean it when I say that I am sorry I did not hear all of the discussion.

The witnesses spoke about the impact of the debate on joining NATO in Finland and Sweden. What are the witnesses' views on that and where it is going? I read one or two articles. It seems there is a debate but they are not seriously considering it and at least for now are happy to remain as they are. One of the lessons I learned from my time in Brussels involved how the Swedes and Finns view Russia. Of course, I should have known but I did not. It was certainly a learning curve for me.

My second question is about Nord Stream 2. How strategic is this? Germany has come round to saying that if there is an invasion, this could be on the table. That is really significant. I remember when the Russians basically switched off the gas seven or eight years ago. Some people froze to death in high-rise apartments in Hungary. Within a short enough period, they switched the gas back on because, of course, it was worth nothing to them while still in the ground. My question is two-pronged. How strong might Germany be in holding the line on Nord Stream and how far would Putin be prepared to go in terms of suffering the financial consequences of that?

Senator Keogan asked a question about boots on the ground. As the witnesses noted, the EU does not have the boots. However, different countries do have them. French boots could be put on the ground.

Could certain European countries, like France, go it alone or is it more likely if there is any intervention in support for Ukraine, a number of countries would be involved? If action were taken by the French to intervene in any way in Ukraine, how would that be likely to play out in the forthcoming French presidential election? One of the advantages President Putin has is that he does not need to keep looking over his shoulder.

I have the same question in the context of other European countries. What would the impacts on national politics in any other European country be if it were to consider a possible intervention in Ukraine? Even though it is no longer with us, do the witnesses see any role for the UK?

Professor Ben Tonra

I will kick off because Finland and Sweden were at the top of the Deputy's list. She is right; there is no immediate prospect of Finland and Sweden joining NATO. However, we need to consider their defence postures and defence structures. The Swedes have sent troops to Gotland and they normally never have troops on Gotland. They have done that specifically because of this crisis. Finland and Sweden are almost ad idem in their own defence and security co-operation. They are now deeply embedded in NATO. It is not possible to put a cigarette paper between the Finnish and Swedish armed forces and NATO in the context of their relationship. The only thing they do not have and thus far do not want is the Article 5 security guarantee. They are both members of Partnership for Peace, as is Ireland. It shows the flexibility of Partnership for Peace to provide for a really close relationship, as Finland and Sweden have, and a very distant relationship, such as Ireland has.

The Deputy asked a very good question about Nord Stream 2. We need to remember that 40% of Europe's gas comes from Russia. Germany is decommissioning all its nuclear power plants. It needs that gas. France took the opposite approach. It is bumping up its nuclear programme because it does not want that dependence on natural gas. Very tangible interests and realities need to be acknowledged. The Deputy is right that the game between Russia and Europe with respect of gas is in a sense something of a game of chicken. Neither side can afford for that to be turned off. However, Russia has thought about this and has build up enormous reserves in recent years. It knows that if it were to do something, sanctions would hit it and it has prepared for those sanctions. The capacity of the Russian people to bear hardship is unparalleled in comparison with anybody else's.

The Deputy asked where this might hit France and what France might do. France is a fascinating case study. There is a traditional row in Europe between a sort of Gaullist vision of a European security defence, which is independent, and an Atlanticist NATO vision of defence which is very transatlantic. The French also have deep historical ties to Russia going right back through history. President Macron is playing his own politics with respect to being seen to lead Europe - the man who flies to Moscow and has conversations with Vladimir Putin. He wants that. What we used to call le Front National, which I will still call the National Front, has its own very particular relationship with Putin and his allies, which plays into domestic French politics in the way the Deputy said.

The Deputy's final point was on the UK no longer being with us. She will have seen the reports today of some sort of amorphous strategic conversation between the UK, Poland and Ukraine. That concerns me, if only because it evokes memories of the First World War and the way in which multiple bilateral alliances fed into the actuality of war in Europe in 1914. We need to remind ourselves that we have security structures in Europe. We have the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, OSCE, and the Helsinki Accords. We have guarantees about the inviolability of borders and a Europe whole and free. Russia is breaking those agreements. Ireland should be very voluble in defending that.

Professor Donnacha Ó Beacháin

There will not be troops on the ground. That is quite clear from EU member states. Ukrainians are not expecting that. Sometimes they find the reluctance to facilitate the arming of Ukrainians to protect themselves bewildering. That was brought forth in the last week or two when having been requested to provide military assistance, the Germans sent 5,000 helmets. Vitali Klitschko, the Mayor of Kyiv, said it was a joke and asked if they might send pillows next. That is the level of support. Sanctions plus military supplies, particularly anti-aircraft equipment, are about the maximum people are expecting. I do not think anybody is expecting troops on the ground for a variety of reasons.

The German Chancellor has said that prudent sanctions should be considered. It was unclear what he meant by that. He stressed that the countries initiating the sanctions would also suffer, by which, of course, he meant Germany. I do not know if the Germans would revisit it in retrospect, but Germany's decision on Nord Stream 2 was remarkable. It was very poorly received by Germany's neighbours in the EU. Poland and the Baltic states saw it as a way of guaranteeing that German customers would keep German gas even if it was switched off for Ukraine in order to exert political leverage as had been done in the past. The Deputy is right in stressing the importance of this. It reasserts the need to move to alternative forms of energy. Addiction to gas has been flagged as a problem for many years and we need to find alternatives.

Brexit and not having the UK simply means one less powerful voice at the table at international institutions. Because the EU does not act as a single voice, the member states are often act on behalf of the EU at international institutions, such as the Council of Europe, the OSCE and even the UN. With the UK having left the EU, we have gone from having two EU permanent members of the UN Security Council to one. It has been halved. Again, it is a weaker voice on these international institutions.

I will allow time if anybody wants to ask final supplementary questions. We have covered a vast array of questions.

I have a question for Professor Ó Beacháin on Russia. I was in Moscow and I remember the immediate economic collapse. I saw the terrible poverty there. At the time I was there the rouble became valueless because nobody knew what value to put on it. The hotel where I stayed converted basically to US dollar. They called it unit of currency, but we knew what we were paying. Professor Ó Beacháin said that Russia is now economically less strong than, for example, Italy. It is quite a poor country in terms of the standing of its people. How strong is Putin's popularity given the economic weakness and the general poverty levels in Russia?

I note that Russia has issued passports to citizens in eastern Ukraine. Professor Ó Beacháin suggests there is no likelihood of an actual invasion but I would be interested to hear his take on annexation of what is already occupied and perhaps a pushing of the boundary there, leading to the "Russianisation" formally of eastern Ukraine.

Professor Tonra said that the voice of Iveagh House on Ukraine is weak. What should Ireland's voice on the current situation be?

Professor Donnacha Ó Beacháin

Those are very interesting questions. The Vice Chairman spoke about what he experienced in the 1990s. The 1990s was a pivotal decade for Russia. It is an integral part of the narrative Putin has constructed around himself. Russians tend to take the long view of history. There have been long periods of authoritarianism, punctuated by brief times of troubles. These times of troubles were like a democratic moment when there was an option to go on different trajectories. There has always been a reversion to the authoritarian template, such as with the inauguration of the Romanovs in the 1700s, the inauguration of the Soviet Union or the inauguration of Vladimir Putin in the 1990s. Russians look back at that as a time of poverty and humiliation.

President Putin's policy has been to reassert Russia's place in the world - to make Russia great again. That is popular with many people. We will never get an exact gauge of how popular it is because no alternatives are allowed to emerge and opinion polls, to put it mildly, are imperfect. There is a long tradition in Russian culture of people taking that the position that they do not have very much but their state is powerful, taking pride in Sputnik going into space and so on. It is essentially a refined Soviet model. President Putin's remarks in regard to the collapse of the Soviet Union was mentioned. He described it as the great geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century. He also said that anybody who did not regret the collapse of the Soviet Union did not have a heart, but anyone who wanted to reconstruct it did not have a head. He has taken what be believes are the best things from the Soviet Union, namely, its prowess in science and technology, its military prowess and its place in the world, and tried to refine it in away that it is not communism or socialism.

In terms of the passportization of the eastern Ukraine, that is a very good point. That has been the policy all along. The Kremlin will say that it has a special interest in protecting the interests of Russian citizens around the world. Where there are not Russian citizens, it has manufactured them by, as has been said, handing out passports. In most of these countries, dual citizenship is not allowed so it is a very provocative move to be offering these passports. They are being offered, usually, in areas where the Government does not have jurisdiction such as in eastern Ukraine. In the past, this has been a precursor for formal annexations or recognitions of breakaway regions. As I mentioned earlier, a very possible alternative if President Putin felt it would achieve his objectives, if he could go no further and he wanted to demonstrate a point, would be not a full-scale invasion but an attempt to consolidate and formalise the relationship he has with south-eastern Ukraine, moving it from an external relationship to an intimate one whereby he recognises it formally either by absorbing it into the Russian federation or recognising it as a state and allowing for inter-state co-operation from a Kremlin perspective. That is a strong possibility. It is one that we have to watch. The best indicator of future behaviour is past behaviour. That is what he has done in other parts of the post-Soviet space where has felt that his interests were not being respected sufficiently.

Would Professor Tonra like to comment?

Professor Ben Tonra

Yes. I do not think I used the word "weak". What I was implying - this comes back to Deputy Haughey's question as well - is, as both of them will recall from their political careers, that there is a difference between support and support. The Irish Government's position has been spot on, pro forma, as it should be in terms of the declaration. My point is that as a small country so invested in the rule of law, international treaties and the post-Cold war settlement that we have, we might be a little more in terms of our support, not just on the rhetorical level but also on the practical level. I do not want to go full Skibbereen Eagle on it. We do not have the defence capacity to do anything of material value for Ukraine, but one would like to see a conversation happening at Cabinet or in Iveagh House on what more could we do to visibly show Ukrainians that we are with them and that we are standing with them and, by implication, show to our partners in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania that we have their back in the way that they had ours.

I will allow a brief supplementary question from Deputy Haughey.

Professor Tonra referenced the Commission on the Defence Forces. From his point of view, what does Ireland need to do to improve in that context? I do not expect a comprehensive reply, just a couple of headlines. I am not sure if Professor Ó Beacháin answered my question about the Russian naval exercises and whether they were meant to intimidate and threaten or they were just something that was happening anyway.

China appears to be backing Russia in respect of Ukraine. What is China up to in this regard?

I will invite the witnesses to give a final round of answers, starting with Professor Tonra.

Professor Ben Tonra

On the Deputy's question with regard to the Commission on the Defence Forces, do not get me started. If the committee could find an EU angle on the commission, I would love to come back on it. The short answer is that if we have three levels of ambition outlined in that document, my hope and aspiration would be that the highest level of ambition would be pursued by the Government and subsequent Governments. That is it. That would only bring us up to the level of other small European states of comparable size.

On the question with regard to China, again, it is an issue on which we could speak for a day. China and Russia are ad idem in terms of what they are doing. What they are both doing is challenging the established international order. There are good reasons to challenge it because it was formed at a certain time in history, with particular interests at the forefront, and it does need profound reform. Both China and Russia have an interest in destabilising and changing the rules of the game. Those changed rules will not suit countries like Ireland.

Professor Donnacha Ó Beacháin

On the Russian naval exercises, the timing and location aroused a lot of interest. It is speculative, at least on my part, to argue why Russia did it and when it did it, but it is interesting that it reversed the decision. That demonstrates that it acknowledged that it generated a lot of negative publicity in Ireland and that was unwelcome and it was not going to help its cause. Russia's relationship with Ireland has been traditionally frosty despite declarations to the contrary. I cannot think of any other country in respect of which we have expelled so many diplomats. I refer to the embassy on Orwell Road, from which three Soviet diplomats were expelled by the Garret FitzGerald-led Government in the 1980s in respect of, it was reported, a spy ring that was operating out of the Stillorgan Shopping Centre. If I am not mistaken, the Taoiseach, Deputy Martin, when Minister for Foreign Affairs in 2010, expelled a diplomat for the cloning of passports at the embassy in Dublin, whereby people who were applying for visas were having their passports cloned and they were being distributed to spies abroad, which was remarkable. Most recently, because of the Salisbury attack and the use of Novichok in England, along with many partners in the EU, we expelled a Russian diplomat. Relations had not been good before this. This was felt to be an unnecessary provocation. As I said, for me one of the most interesting things is that on this occasion Russia listened. The naval exercises will still take place, but the fact that they will take place outside of Ireland's exclusive economic zone is something to be welcomed. It is significant.

I thank Professor Ó Beacháin and Professor Tonra for a most informative and interesting session. I note Deputy Harkin is indicating.

I have huge admiration for Professor Tonra. I have no authority to speak on behalf of the fishermen, and while I heard what Professor Tonra said, it is their fishing grounds and their livelihoods. It was a real hammer blow in addition to what has happened in the context of Brexit, as a result of which they lost part of their fishing grounds. It is a positive Irish tradition and part of being a democracy. They could do what fishermen in Russia could not do. Perhaps more was made of it than it was, but that is politics.

Professor Ben Tonra

Do not get me wrong, I was not criticising the fishermen. My criticism was that the fishermen had to do it.

I thank the witnesses. We hope we will have opportunities to engage again. That concludes our discussion until 10 a.m. next Tuesday, 8 February, when we will have a discussion with the European Commissioner in regard to migration.

The joint committee adjourned at 11.09 a.m. until 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 8 February 2022.