The European Council decided at its meeting on 20-21 March to widen a visa ban and asset freeze against named individuals in Russia and to cancel the next EU-Russia summit. It took these targeted measures in view of the absence of any steps towards de-escalation by Moscow in Ukraine. While remaining open for dialogue, the European Council recalled that any further steps by the Russian Federation to destabilise the situation in Ukraine would lead to additional and far reaching consequences for relations in a broad range of economic areas between the European Union and its Member States, on the one hand, and the Russian Federation, on the other hand. In this respect, the European Council asked the Commission and the Member States to prepare possible targeted measures.
Ireland is engaged in these ongoing discussions with our partners in Brussels. While we do not know how Russia might choose to retaliate should the Union indeed decide that a move to trade and economic sanctions is warranted, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has, in cooperation with other Departments and the state agencies, begun the task of identifying possible vulnerabilities. It would not be appropriate to say more than this at this time. Russia is a significant trading partner and is one of Ireland’s 27 priority markets. In 2012 total bilateral merchandise trade with Russia was valued at €702m. Exports were worth €602m and imports €100m. There are over 200 Irish companies exporting to Russia and 24 have a permanent presence there.
As the Taoiseach has stated, it is clear that there will be consequences for Ireland and its partners, as well as for Russia, if sanctions are imposed by both sides. I therefore very much hope that this can be avoided. The Russian Federation must engage without further delay in serious negotiations with the government in Kiev – either bilaterally or through some appropriate multilateral mechanism – and take urgent steps to de-escalate the situation. However, the Union needs to be ready to take appropriate measures if this does not happen and the situation deteriorates further.