Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 17 Apr 2014

Update on the Situation in Ukraine: Statements

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 not to sign the association agreement with the European Union. I met with many of the demonstrators myself when I visited Ukraine and Kiev for the OSCE ministerial meeting in December 2013. The development of the crisis since 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 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 in 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 co-ordinated attempt to destabilise the country and to undermine the Government in Kiev in advance of the presidential election scheduled for 25 May. A constant area of focus by the European Union has been the need for an inclusive, fair and lawful election to take place by the end of May. The election is clearly of huge importance to the communities in Ukraine and the people of Ukraine who seek orderly, fair and efficient government. The period in the run-up to the presidential election is of great importance. What we have seen happen is that the Ukrainian Government and the authorities have demonstrated very great restraint in the face of huge challenges and pressures within the country and in the face of huge provocation from elsewhere.

In my address to Dáil Éireann on the issue two weeks ago, and following statements on this and other related matters in the Seanad, I set out the reasons such developments should be of concern to Ireland and why we must take a strong view on the issue. The main reason is because as a small country we depend very heavily on the respect others hold for international law and the ability of international law to create an atmosphere in which all countries - small and big - can protect their interests in a peaceful and lawful manner. There are clear procedures in place in international law on handling issues such as the location of borders and important questions on how communities and countries should govern themselves. Due to our own history and the many challenges we have faced in the past and currently, we understand the importance of international law. We understand the importance of being able to deal with neighbours and other countries in an atmosphere of respect and where law is respected. What we have seen happen in the developments I have outlined is that the body of international law has been completely flouted by the Russian Federation in the actions it has taken in Crimea and in the pressures and decisions that have been made in Crimea in recent months.

Throughout every phase in this crisis we have worked closely with our partners in the European Union. The European Union has been strong, consistent and clear during that period. The approach has been united in making clear that what happened in Ukraine is completely unacceptable and that it will have consequences for our relations with Russia. From the outset, the European Union 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 and the EU Heads of State and Government have discussed Ukraine in extraordinary session as well as during the regular meetings of the European Council.

Without wishing to be discourteous or to interrupt the Minister of State’s flow, is a copy of the speech available?

I understood the speech was being circulated. I apologise if the Senator has not received it.

I do not have it but perhaps my colleagues have.

I will ask the ushers to look after the matter.

I apologise to the Senator for any inconvenience caused.

Senators are as aware as I am that at this time in Europe 100 years ago a regional crisis spilled over into events that had consequences for an entire continent. Senators are aware of the role of momentum, incident and accident in leading Europe to a point 100 years ago where we faced consequences and events that were absolutely catastrophic and that resulted in the loss of life of so many people. As part of my work as Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs I recently visited Sarajevo in Bosnia Herzegovina and I saw the bridge at which the event took place that triggered so many events that had such a devastating effect on Europe. That is why the European Union in its response to date to what has happened has been very careful to put in place a framework of response. It has had three different stages and the leaders of the European Union at each stage have said what they want to achieve is a peaceful resolution to a very complicated crisis that has now been overlaid with the flouting and breaking of international law. In response to what has happened we have said that measures will be put in place, and have been put in place, to deal with individuals and if events were to further destabilise the situation other measures would then be considered. That is why, 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 against 21 Russian and Ukrainian officials. The European Council, later that same week, added a further 12 names to the list. If events were to destabilise further, other measures would be considered and the European Commission was tasked with developing what those options could be.

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. Preparatory work continues on so-called phase 3 measures. The Council also adopted a decision on macro-financial assistance for Ukraine, which brings the total amount of funding being made available by the European Union to €1.6 billion. The support is part of a broader package in the next two years of €27 billion.

Ireland and the European Union have consistently stressed the importance of maintaining open channels of communication with the Russian Federation. We welcome, therefore, the quartet talks involving Russia, the United States, Ukraine and the European Union which are to take place in Geneva today. The European Union will continue its engagement in international facilitation initiatives involving the United Nations, the OSCE and others. Ireland is participating fully in these efforts. We sent an officer to the initial interim OSCE mission and will be sending an officer to join the Polish-led second interim OSCE mission.

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, I 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. 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. Instability does not respect national frontiers. 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 its EU partners, will spare no effort in trying to bring this about.

I welcome the Minister of State and thank him for outlining the Government’s current position on the situation in Ukraine. However, the sands are shifting and the crisis continues to escalate. The recent takeover by pro-Russian separatists of Ukrainian army personnel carriers has escalated the crisis to a new plain. It seems likely that the forthcoming talks in Geneva will end up as a verbal fight between the Russian foreign Minister, Mr. Sergei Lavrov, and the Ukrainian Foreign Minister, Mr. Andrii Deshchytsia.

There is an old saying that those who ignore history are condemned to repeat it. What is going on in Ukraine and Mr. Putin’s sabre-rattling is reminiscent of Hitler and his attitude to the Sudeten Germans in 1938. The Sudeten German Party, led by Konrad Henlein, received both verbal and financial support from Hitler. Hitler had constantly talked about putting all Germans into one Reich and that no true German would have to live outside of Germany. How reminiscent is that of the language of the Russian President, Mr. Putin, in recent months? In 1938, Hitler ordered his generals to start to make plans for the invasion of Czechoslovakia. He also ordered Henlein and his followers to start to create trouble in the Sudetenland, therefore proving to the outside world that the Czech Government was incapable of maintaining order in its own state. An exact parallel can be found in the utterances coming from Moscow for several weeks since the crisis first escalated.

Hitler planned to use this chaos to put his army into the Sudetenland to restore law and order. Fomenting confusion and anarchy in the eastern part of Ukraine is the secret agenda of the Moscow Government in order that it can justify marching the Russian army into the region to protect the Russian minority there. That is why I am heartened by the Minister of State’s points about the common approach taken by the European Union. I understand the significance and implications of sanctions, particularly with the move to phase 3 which will impose severe repercussions for the Russian and western European economies. What will be the implications of such a move for Ireland?

Ireland is sympathetic to the Ukrainian cause. I am pleased there are representatives of the Ukrainian community in the Visitors Gallery to hear this debate. I want to reassure them that the Irish people are in solidarity and at one with their cause to ensure their territorial integrity and sovereignty is maintained. We have a long and dark history of colonialism stretching over centuries. The Irish people have an empathy with any country such as Ukraine when its sovereignty is threatened with violation and invasion.

An interesting aspect of the 1938 Sudetenland crisis that draws a parallel with the present day crisis is that Britain, under Neville Chamberlain, chose to negotiate with Hitler over the Sudeten crisis. Part of the reason for that was because Britain was incapable militarily of taking on the might of the Third Reich. France had signed an agreement with Czechoslovakia offering support if the country was attacked. However, Hitler could all but guarantee that in 1938 the French would do nothing. The USSR had also given Czechoslovakia a promise of help but the USSR was in internal chaos during this time and unlikely to help Czechoslovakia out.

History proves that one has to stand up to bully boy tactics. I urge the European Union collectively to stand down the Russian President, Mr. Putin, and his expansionist plans. Irrespective of what he is saying, I do not believe one word coming from Moscow. I believe they want to break up Ukraine and take away its eastern provinces to incorporate them into the Russian Federation. That is unacceptable. The Minister of State made it clear that any violation of Ukrainian sovereignty would be met with stiff resistance from the European Union. As Churchill put it, it is far better to jaw-jaw than war-war. I hope the continuing negotiations will bear fruit.

Ultimately, we in the European Union, and in Ireland as part of it, stand steadfast with the people of Ukraine and support them in their free and democratic elections in the next month. One of the key planks of the argument made by pro-Russian forces is that they do not want to deal with what they see as an undemocratic and fascist-led Government in Kiev. It is unfortunate that in the current interim administration, there are representatives of a party, the ideology of which none of us would share. It is an unfortunate reality that, following the revolution in Kiev, the compromise arrived at by the various democratic forces has resulted in part of the Government comprising a party that would not be acceptable in any country. I hope this is a temporary arrangement and the people of Ukraine will have the opportunity to elect a free and democratic Government. I am pleased the Minister of State indicated there will be Irish monitors there next month for the presidential election.

We on the Fianna Fáil side fully support the Minister of State’s and the Government’s efforts to ensure Ukraine, ultimately, will live in peaceful co-existence with its Russian neighbours.

I welcome the Minister of State and thank him for his endeavours in this regard. I also welcome the debate on this important and serious issue. The situation in Ukraine poses many issues in the short and long term, on which the Minister touched. In the aftermath of the internal unrest which occurred following the then government's decision to ally itself with Russia as opposed to the European Union on economic matters, Russia has exerted itself strongly, to say the least. As Senator Paschal Mooney said, bully tactics were used in the invasion of Crimea, changing the geopolitical map and increasing tensions in the region to a level that had not been seen in many years, which is very frightening. The situation continues to unfold and last night Ukrainian forces are reported to have killed three pro-Russian militants in the east of the country ahead of international crisis talks in Geneva. Senator Paschal Mooney is correct that the situation is current, in flux and evolving each hour, and of very serious concern. Nobody is more aware of this than the Minister.

According to today's reports, Ukraine's national guard responded to an attack on its base in the city of Mariupol by approximately 300 people. Civil unrest is reaching unsustainable levels backed by many local Russian speakers. As we all know, some of them are demanding a referendum on transferring many powers from Kiev to the regions or even joining Russia. Ukraine's new pro-West government claims Russian agents are behind unrest that the Kremlin states could spark civil war and rejects demands for federalisation that would give Moscow greater influence in areas where Russian is spoken. Needless to say, Russia has refuted this, claiming it is an internal protest by Ukrainians who are rebelling against the government.

The European Union and the United States have imposed sanctions on Russian political and business figures with ties to the Kremlin and pledge to go further if Russia continues its alleged interference in Ukraine. The West states some 40,000 of Moscow's troops are massed near Ukraine's eastern border and could invade within hours, if ordered. This is deeply concerning and adds to the tension. While this confrontation between Russia and the West over Ukraine imperils the Russian economy which is to the forefront of their minds, the problem runs both ways. Russia’s pre-existing economic malaise also explains why the country is vulnerable to an international crisis. The Ukrainian crisis has occurred just at the moment when economic growth in Russia has come to depend more heavily than ever on capital-intensive investment, much of which comes from the European Union.

As the Financial Times reported this week, Russia’s economic problems are structural, even if some cyclical factors such as recession and stagnation in the eurozone – by far Russia’s largest trading partner – have added to the gloom. The slowdown of European growth has dealt a much more serious blow to Ukraine’s economy than to Russia’s and must be reckoned among the underlying causes of the events that have contributed to the crisis. Political confrontation with the West following the annexation of Crimea has significantly undermined this external investment in Russia, with capital leaking out of Russia as domestic business owners do not see enough investment projects inside it with a sufficiently attractive risk-reward balance. Although that is how things stood six months ago, the political confrontation with the West following Russia’s annexation of Crimea undermines this investment case. Returns will be impaired by slower growth and western sanctions will create new risks, even assuming that the economic option of forbidding Russian trade and finance is never exercised, and it is unforeseeable that the situation will ever go that far. However, Russia’s dependence on external sources of long-term finance explains why its economy slumped far more after the financial crisis than any other major oil exporter. This is the position, as it stands, and the threat of military intervention in Ukraine and the intervention in Crimea have undermined Russia’s economy.

Although the situation in Ukraine is unstable, if agreement is reached in the talks, which it can be, we can continue to work towards restoring stability in Ukraine. Following this conflict, either the European Union or Russia will need to work with Ukraine to assist its economy in the long term and I am comforted that the Union has taken such a joined-up approach. Although I thought it would be a major challenge, considering how many member states are involved in the process, I was very pleased to hear that the European Union was having a very positive influence. This does not take away from the fact that the situation is very serious on a day-to-day basis and evolving. The Minister of State is obviously very much in touch with it and I thank him for his work and the update on the Government's position.

With the permission of the House, I would like to share two minutes of my time with Senator Sean D. Barrett.

I welcome the Minister. I am sorry he was not here a little earlier because, as a former Member of the House who had opposed the retention of the Seanad, I am sure he would have felt the people were right had he seen the Bill, initiated by Senator John Crown, one of our leading cancer specialists, being passed with the co-operation of his colleague, the Minister for Health, Deputy James Reilly. The Bill will have a very significant impact on children's health by preventing people from smoking in cars with children.

I take a slightly dissenting view on this matter because the European Union has not behaved well at all and was extraordinarily cack-handed in its diplomatic approaches to it. By pushing into an area which was clearly in the Russian sphere of influence without proper discussions and negotiations and without bringing the Russians in, it allowed Russia to pose as being frightened, even if it was not. With great deference to our friends and guests from Ukraine, the problem is that Ukraine is very mixed. Even the people who support the European Union told us there were mixed views and divided opinions in Ukraine, including among Russian speakers and Russian nationals. It was exceptionally stupid of the incoming government after the revolution or coup to ban the Russian language as one of its first acts. It did not suggest good will. The appalling right-wing elements in the government are a tragedy.

I am glad that Senator Paschal Mooney raised the issue of the Sudetenland and that the Minister raised the question of 1914 because there are comparisons but also significant differences. Had the Prince of Wales been shot in Dublin the British Empire would not have stood silently by. The Austrians were completely justified in the First World War and we were on the wrong side in terms of the geopolitical elements, although there were also business matters at stake. Hitler stirred things up in the Sudetenland, but while there is an apparent, superficial parallel, it is not the same. The very word "Russia" comes from Ukraine, the Russian state and people originate in Ukraine and there is an extraordinary emotional bond. While I am not saying the pro-western people who are concentrated in the larger western part of Ukraine do not and should not have rights - one hopes the country is sustainable - Crimea was part of Russia and Khrushchev had no right to give it away. Suppose the people of Hawaii who have been trampled by American colonialism appealed to Russia to take over and protect their rights as Hawaiians, despite the enormous naval installations the Americans have on the islands. That would be one for the books.

With regard to all of this pious stuff - I know that the Minister of State means it because he is a good person - but it is all bilge basically because there is not a rule of law anywhere in the world. Just look at the way people's rights have been trampled on all over Africa, inside China and inside the United States. How can anyone be serious about the rule of law when President Obama, whom we all thought would be a breath of fresh air, has authorised ten times the number of drone strikes in which civilians are killed? What happened to the rule of law in that instance? What happened to the right to a trial, the right to be indicted, the right to be arrested, and the right to a fair trial? That has all gone and is perpetrated by our friends, the Americans.

What about when we talk about small nations and their right to do this, that and the other? We had an honourable policy under Frank Aiken with regard to Tibet. However, every single Government since has slid away from this. If we substitute Tibet for Ukraine what does one get? Not a squeak. When Dublin City Council tried to give the Dalai Lama the freedom of the city of Dublin its idea was squashed for petty partisan reasons. I suggested that the Dalai Lama should be invited to the foreign affairs committee but my suggestion was squashed because we are afraid to alienate the Chinese. That is not a moral position but a financial one.

I do not believe that sanctions will make a huge difference unless they get to a point where they damage the Irish economy as well. I agree with colleagues who suggested that we should be given some information about the impact they would have on the Irish economy. I do not think that it is huge but I know that balance is in our favour with regard to Ukraine.

The Senator will eat into Senator Sean D. Barrett's time in 30 seconds.

I was told one minute.

No. The Senator has 30 seconds left.

The Acting Chairman held up one finger.

It has been brought to the Senator's attention that he has 30 seconds left.

I have said, more or less, what I wanted to say and shall end with the following. It should not be the strategic interests of either Russia or the European Union but that of the ordinary people of Ukraine that should be protected because they will have to pay the price at the end of the day. It is they who should be protected whether they are Russian speaking, Ukrainian nationalists or whatever else.

I say well done to the Acting Chairman and thank him for using the drums. I shall obey them and reserve a final comment for the Minister of State. What if, for example, we could reach a situation in the future where Russia moved to where it naturally should be and became part of the European Union? I know that is wishful thinking but such a development would be a wonderful solution. We are moving towards global government and the sooner we move the better.

Senator Sean D. Barrett is left with one and a quarter minutes.

Three quarter minutes.

I am sure the Acting Chairman could give a little latitude because Senators are not queuing up now to speak.

Go raibh maith agat. I welcome the Minister of State, as always. I am trying to recover from the radicalism of Senator David Norris's suggestion that Russia should join the European Union. However, it is great to have men of vision in this House and I commend him for his suggestion.

In the immediate term, I agree with the Minister of State regarding the elections on 26 May and the fact that we need to ensure, through the Geneva talks and elsewhere, that the elections take place. It is then that we will find out the answer to Senator Norris's question about how many people in the Ukraine feel more attracted to Russia than to the West.

The Minister of State has rightly drawn our attention to what happened in 1914 and Senator Paschal Mooney drew our attention to what happened in 1939. We do not want the law of unintended consequences to apply. Let us remember that in our case one of the consequences of 1914 was that Home Rule legislation was put on hold. Hence, the completely unintended consequence of anybody in Sarajevo at the time was the partition of Ireland and the falling apart of the two main traditions in this country. We were on our way to Home Rule because it had been passed by Parliament in the United Kingdom. Therefore, we know more than most about the unintended consequences of disputes that start in a completely different part of the world.

The elections are most important and necessitate restraint. I hope the Minister of States and his colleagues will have many advisers accompanying him because we need Ukrainians to determine their own future. There seems also to be a need to involve President Putin with the EU at the highest level. We do need his co-operation and support in this matter so we must not demonise him. I know that the Minister of STate would not do so but it is important that we do not do it either. In my remaining quarter of a minute I wish the Minister of State and his colleagues success in these talks. We need a peaceful resolution and he has the support of the House in that regard.

I welcome the Minister of State. In terms of the history of Crimea-Ukraine, mention has been made of 1914. However, I would like to mention 1853 when ostensibly the religious rights of citizens in the Holy Land, as it was then known, provoked a war within Crimea between Russia, Britain and France and the former Ottoman Empire. Apparently the aim of the war was to prevent Russia from gaining territory at the expense of the Ottoman Empire. This is not the first time that we have seen a tussle for geo-political domination in Crimea.

I agree, to some extent, with my colleague, Senator David Norris, but I am a little more critical of the situation. An interesting article was published in The Sunday Business Post by Dr. Erin Baumann which analysed the motivations, for want of a better word, behind Russian President, Vladimir Putin's, actions regarding Ukraine. She outlined an interesting history of Russia's interests and said they were not motivated by a desire to assert Russia's power or establish its position as the centre of the Eurasian sphere of influence, rather to protect itself against what it sees as a loss of critical influence in an important part of the world in terms of its own concerns. She pointed out, for example, that since 2008 with the establishment of the European Union's eastern partnership programme, Russia has been increasingly wary of European influence in its near sphere. It responded by setting up a customs union between Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan in 2010. Effectively, she said that we need to look at what motivated Russia to take action.

Dr. Baumann also made the point that the only way to oppose the establishment of Russia's domination in Eurasia was to have a strong and unified European Union. She pointed out, and I completely agree with her, having lived through what happened in the former Yugoslavia, that the crisis in Ukraine has demonstrated the limits of the European Union's capability to be a strong and unified foreign policy actor because of the different interests of the 28 member states. She pointed out, as we all know, the dependence of some of our colleagues on Russia's gas and oil. She also pointed to the Association of European Businesses which promotes the interests of European companies doing business within the Russian Federation, and other parts of that world, as forces that stand in the path of a more cohesive action by the EU member states. I noticed in a recent report about sanctions that we are awaiting a report from the Commission on the impact of sanctions on EU member states. Therefore, we are quite clearly putting our own interests ahead of the interests of those people we profess to care about who live in Ukraine. I found that quite disturbing. She concluded that the European Union could only effectively respond by developing a coherent and unified foreign policy which we clearly do not appear to have.

Having said all that I would like, to some extent, to support what Senator David Norris said about the internal situation in Ukraine. The crisis did not happen yesterday or the day before. We must remember, aside from our own geopolitical and economic interests, that Ukraine is facing its greatest internal crisis for over 20 years and since the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

We must also bear in mind that there have been significant ethnic difficulties within Ukraine, which the events of recent months have brought to the surface. For example, in 2004 there was the so-called Orange Revolution where citizens protested in the aftermath of the presidential elections, which were said to have been corrupt. Voters were intimidated and there was electoral fraud, there was civil disobedience, strikes and sit-ins, and the supreme court was forced to annul the original results and hold a re-election. In spite of that, there have been numerous political corruption scandals as part of the regular political life in Ukraine, with all the contenders we hear about every day of the week - Yanukovych, Tymoshenko - all of whom have expressed what would be regarded as questionable attitudes towards democracy. I thank Steven Balbirnie of UCD's University Observer for some of his comments.

Successive administrations have defined themselves on whether they were pro-Russian or pro-European. There has been bad behaviour on both sides. There has been tit for tat by both government and opposition, with both banning political parties in their local administrative areas which were under their respective control. This has obviously fanned the flames of the situation in Ukraine, with outside powers wading in not to help resolve what is effectively a domestic issue but to protect their own geopolitical interests. In terms of the current situation, Russia has made it clear that it regards Crimea as part of its sovereign territory, regardless of what anybody has to say about it. The United states and the European Union appear weak in terms of their negotiating efforts, and the Government in Kiev is not without its own responsibility for the situation, acting aggressively and making inflammatory remarks while, it would appear, refusing to rein in ulta-nationalist groups that have been going into eastern Ukraine, apparently, in mobs to terrorise Russian locals. I believe that what we are seeing in eastern parts of Ukraine such as Kharkiv and Donetsk is that locals are trying to separate not due to some plot orchestrated by Moscow but because they do not feel the Government in Kiev is protecting them from ethnic violence. Whether we believe Russia has desires to annex more of Ukraine, or simply wants to protect its interests in the Black Sea, or whether this is part of its attempts to protect what it regards as Russian civilians in eastern Ukraine, one way or the other I do not believe the European Union has covered itself in glory in position.

Perhaps I can make a controversial statement. In Ireland, of all the countries in the world, we should be well aware of a situation in which we need to respect different national identities within the same State. We are not unique. We see a similar situation within Cyprus. I think we are being overly simplistic in our statements in regard to Ukraine. I am not convinced that the long-term solution to the situation in Ukraine is not to have freely held democratic referendums to decide, once and for all, whether there is a genuine desire to split Ukraine along ethnic lines. If that is the case I do not think we should ultimately be afraid of it.

I fundamentally disagree with the last point made by Senator Aideen Hayden. The annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation is an illegitimate act. Despite the fact that Crimea may have a predominantly ethnic Russian population, it does not provide any justification for it. If we fail to respect the territorial integrity of nations, ultimately it will lead to chaos and much conflict in various areas around the globe. My colleague, Senator Paschal Mooney, put it in sharp focus when he raised the analogy of the Sudetenland and Nazi Germany. There is little doubt that the objective of the Russian President, and probably of others within the Russian Administration, is to rebuild and increase its sphere of influence across what was formerly the Soviet bloc. It has implications not only for Ukraine but other countries also.

We see today that the conflict in Ukraine could grow into something far more serious. Yesterday we saw the special forces of Ukraine take over Kramatorsk Airport, having to recover it from the separatists. We saw the Russian separatists commandeering five armoured vehicles and a tank. All of this, including the fact that people were killed in the conflict yesterday, could lead to a fairly serious conflagration there. I share some of the reservations of others. It was a real pity that the agreement of 21 February was not followed through. It was accepted and then, obviously, rejected. If that agreement had been implemented it would have allowed a more cohesive and peaceful evolution of the democratic process in Ukraine. The overthrow of Yanukovych having been agreed raised questions. Also, I thought the European Union should have passed some condemnatory comments on peaceful protests becoming a form of anarchy when buildings were taken over, occupied and burned. That type of violence should have no part in peaceful protests. There is a line beyond which protests can evolve after which they need to be rejected as not being in line with the fundamental freedoms of proper civilian protest. Unfortunately, that happened in Kiev.

The West was quick to recognise Kosovo. I was one of the few voices in the House who felt we should have been far more cautious in that regard. We have put ourselves in a position in which we have given justification to Putin or anybody else who has this attitude to invade and take over parts of countries or to declare independence of part of countries. We have created an situation in which it is difficult to be consistent in our arguments. In fact, I could include Northern Ireland and Gibraltar. Britain has no legitimacy there. If we recognise British legitimacy in Northern Ireland, we are saying with regard to Crimea that it is not okay now but in a number of years it will be okay. The same happened in South Ossetia in Georgia, which was invaded and ceded. There are a number of areas of conflict. There is the threat to Moldova. There are significant Russian populations in the Baltic states. As this has wider implications, a more nuanced and prudent approach should have been taken.

In regard to the sanctions that are being imposed, I share some of the reservations mentioned. I am unsure about how effective they will be. I see the need for us to do something. Any consequent decline of the Russian economy will have implications for Putin, and that might in some way encourage dialogue. It would be a pity if we ended up compromising on some of the actions we can take because of Europe's dependency on, for example, Russian gas.

There is a need to intensify the negotiations which have started in Geneva with the European Union, the United STates, Ukraine and Russia to try to find a solution which I hope will maintain the territorial integrity of Ukraine.

Moreover, it is to be hoped that lessons will have been learned from this and other such episodes in order that in future, a more enlightened approach will be taken from the onset of such issues, rather than trying to retrieve the situation after mistakes have been made on the diplomatic international scene at an earlier stage that only contributed to exacerbating the situation, rather than to finding solutions.

I welcome the Minister of State and congratulate him on the great work he is doing in Europe. In one way, I call to mind that headline in The Skibbereen Eagle of having its eye on the tsar of Russia. However, as a member of the European Union and being represented by the Minister of State there, Ireland can have a major influence on policy within the European Union towards Ukraine. After all is said and done, one can talk about Hawaii, Kosovo or wherever one likes but the basic principle is international law and that the integrity and unity of a country must be respected. People in this state are familiar with what happens historically when the territorial unity and integrity of a country are not respected. Thankfully however, through negotiation and dialogue, as well as instruments such as the Good Friday and St. Andrews Agreements, we are working to resolve these issues peacefully.

It remains occupied.

Ireland can bring to bear its own history and its own unique insight to the situation in Ukraine. What has happened is that international law has been flouted by the Russians and one does not stop the bear by tickling his tummy. Strong action must be taken within the European Union to let the Russians and the world know the ideals and principles of liberal democracy and human rights, as represented in the European Union and throughout the world, must be respected or there will be consequences. These consequences will take the form of sanctions and such sanctions must be calibrated to the situation. Moreover, we must be strong in this regard.

As for Kosovo, the situation there was slightly different, in that under United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244, Kosovo constituted a case sui generis, which did not call into question the principles of the United Nations Charter and the Helsinki Final Act. Consequently, there is no legitimacy for what the Russians are doing in Ukraine, regardless of the situation there. The conclusions on Ukraine approved by the European Council should act as our charter. The conclusions state the European Union:

supports the Ukrainian people and their right to choose their own future. The European Union stands by the Ukrainian government in its efforts to stabilise Ukraine and undertake reforms.

That refers to how there is no point in banning the Russian language, if one takes over as such measures are not helpful. Consequently, the European Union will assist Ukraine and that is what my message to the Minister of State would be.

Furthermore, the conclusions state, "the European Union will pursue further efforts with the international community to assist Ukraine". As Members are aware, Russia is seeking to secure its borders and it will not stop. It will move further and then, having secured its borders and having the greater Europe it seeks - with half being under its hegemony and half within the European Union - it will move on to what it really wants to do, which is to protect its territory east of the Urals from Asia. That is the policy of Russia and Putin but Members are not interested in that. They are interested in Ukraine and if Ireland in Europe promotes democracy and human rights in Ukraine, as Senator Noone observed, the European Union must also provide financial support to Ukraine. Thereafter, we can help to stabilise Ukraine for its own future, be it a unitary state or a federal structure, as that is up to Ukraine. The Minister of State is doing a good job. I listened to his statement with interest and ask him to reflect on my modest suggestions to help him in his task.

I welcome the Minister of State. Following on from what already has been stated about the fluidity of the process, I note that even looking at Twitter now, so much is happening that it is difficult to keep up. However, the talks in Geneva are a good initiative and I hope they can reduce some of the tensions and begin a process to end this crisis. While international support for peace and security is needed, ultimately only the Ukrainians themselves can decide their future and they must be allowed to make the decisions free of international pressure. In a confidence-building measure, the build-up of Russian troops along the border must stop and they should be removed. Similarly, NATO should cease the escalation and mobilisation of its forces in eastern Europe. For too long, Ukraine has been used as a geopolitical football by Russia and the European Union to achieve their own strategic aims. Unfortunately, because of this it has suffered under successive corrupt and ineffective governments for far too long. The result of this has been a deterioration in socioeconomic conditions and essentially, a bankruptcy of that state. Some of the recent problems stem from interference by the European Union, the United States and Russia in the power struggle within Ukraine. Rather than forcing Ukraine to choose between one of two political routes, the European Union and Russia should have been working together to create mutually beneficial and non-exclusive economic, political and social relationships with Ukraine. This would have been of real, genuine benefit to ordinary Ukrainians. The interim government in Kiev has little legitimacy in the country and continues to be divided. Members have heard a lot about this already.

One can be under no illusion about either Russia's self-interest in this region or its reasons for the recent behaviour but it must be pointed out that the referendum that took place in Crimea obviously is another factor in the escalating crisis. It was held under the worst possible conditions, there was a sub-standard security situation, a volatile atmosphere, international pressure, the lack of open democratic debate, press restrictions and a lack of dialogue preceding the referendum. Obviously, Sinn Féin supports the right to referendums to decide self-determination but they should be in line with good democratic practice. It is clear there is a great deal of support in Crimea for separating from Ukraine and joining Russia. However, there first should be dialogue and negotiation within Ukraine, free from the aforementioned outside interference, obviously with a view to finding an overall agreement on the future of Ukraine. Some Members already have mentioned the perhaps less positive role that has been played by the European Union. Some people will state the actions of the European Union have been just as disastrous for the Ukrainian people. The European Union has moved ahead with its association agreement with Ukraine and some would state this is a cause of the escalation in the first place.

The European Union should not force through such an important document with an interim government. It is said the agreement will lock some of the political and economic structures in a straitjacket and suggested one of the first effects will be an increase in domestic gas prices on 1 May. The European Union and the IMF have been requested to provide financial support for Ukraine. Before now, domestic gas prices were heavily subsidised by the government, which ensured people did not starve or freeze to death during the winter. However, that subsidy will be cut under the package. There have been other threats of spending cuts. When there is such poverty in the country, threats of such cuts are unpopular throughout Ukraine, especially in its eastern part. The more Ukraine increases its socioeconomic development, the more autonomy it will have in deciding its own future. That should be the main focus of the external efforts and in providing support.

I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House and his contribution.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Paschal Donohoe. I thank the Leader of the House for allowing time for a discussion of this serious issue.

I am encouraged by the talks in Geneva today and the press conference given by Vladimir Putin this morning on his intentions or desires in regard to Ukraine. There is a de-escalation of the situation to some extent because the two countries are in talks. I listened to the contributions of Senator David Norris and others who discussed the background to the situation and also to the contribution of Senator Jim D'Arcy who is very experienced, as a member of the Council of Europe. I note that he has learned a good deal from our debates last week in the Assembly in Strasbourg.

The action of the European Union was quite provocative. It was not very well versed in history in seeking to attract Ukraine within western control as opposed to it being linked with Russia. It was not very observant of Baroness Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. She will have left that position at the end of May, about which I am delighted. I hope the next person who represents the European Union will have vast experience of international affairs and be aware that Ukraine is served by Russia in terms of its energy supplies of oil and gas. It depends on Russia for its very existence. Forcing an agreement on it - putting it to it that it was either them or us - was ill-advised, as I said at the meeting of the monetary committee in Strasbourg last week. Our delegation, led by Deputy Joe O' Reilly, supported the withdrawal of voting rights at the Council of Europe, but we did not support the withdrawal of membership of the Council of Europe That would be a step too far because it is important to have engagement in dialogue at the Council of Europe, whereas if its credentials were not accepted and withdrawn, it would have been a step too far.

It was very provocative of Russia to annex Crimea, which was a step too far. When we were in trouble here in 1970s and there was pressure exerted to force developments, we did not receive that much support throughout the world for our stand. We should never forget that Ireland is a neutral country. In the period 1939 to 1945 we did not participate in the so-call Great War. We stood alone on a neutral basis. Anything that would endanger our €600 million worth of exports to Russia would be a step too far. We did not start this conflict and will not finish it. This is a small country on the edge of Europe and we are taking the right diplomatic approach in condemning the activities of Russia which has not done itself any favour internationally, given that it had built up tremendous respect throughout the world.

Having been the first Minister from any country to go to the Russian Federation in 1990s and having worked on trade issues and taking account of the efforts made by Aer Rianta in the development of a duty free shop at Moscow airport, our beef exports to Russia and exports generally to it have been hard fought for. I will totally oppose any ban on Irish exports to Russia in response to its activities in Ukraine. It is not our fight. We can do what we like, but we have to bear in mind that nobody is that concerned about Ireland as far as our future prospects are concerned. Employment in this country would be under serious threat if we were to jeopardise our exports to Russia on the basis of this issue. I believe the Minister of State and most other European countries would be reluctant to impose an overall trade ban on the Russian Federation. I certainly would not support such a ban because I believe the activities of the European Union and the United States of the America were highly provocative in this regard. Senator Jim D'Arcy put it very well when he referred to a sleeping bear. They caused a reaction which would not have been caused if they had left well enough alone and they would have had good positive relations with Ukraine and Russia.

The activities in Geneva this morning and the fact that the two countries are in discussions are very positive and I think there will be a positive outcome. The activities yesterday in the seizure of tanks were inept as far as the Ukrainian Government is concerned. It is not a very strong government. The election on 25 May to elect a President will be very important. I was not impressed by the previous President who was questionable in terms of her activities and background. When she appeared in Dublin at a meeting of the European People's Party, EPP, she was given a standing ovation, even though her position was very dubious. Catherine Ashton should not have embraced her in Kiev or endorsed her as the candidate of the West, seeing her as the shining light of fidelity, honesty and trustworthiness. She was on trial, although I accept that she should not have been jailed.

The person mentioned is not here to defend herself.

The Acting Chairman was with her at that meeting and clapped her.

Is the Senator sure about that?

No. The Acting Chairman is certainly a member of the EPP and welcomed her to Dublin.

We could invite her here.

I ask Senator Terry Leyden to conclude.

I will not say anymore about her, as she is not here.

I will conclude on a positive note. The Minister of State has heard our differing views. We express them as Members of the House, not as the views of a particular party. We all have our individual views in this regard.

The Minister tried to silence them.

The Senator is way over time.

I hope the Minister of State has learned a good deal from those who have considerable experience, even more than he has.

I thank all Senators for their contributions. I want to make four overall points in response to the issues raised by Senators. I will then respond to the comments made by each Senator.

The first point I want to make is about the concept Senators used during the debate to the effect that the European Union was in some way forcing Ukraine to sign an association agreement. I ask them to produce the evidence to back up that claim. We were dealing with a democratically elected government which was giving all of the signs that it wanted to sign an association agreement with the European Union. It was on that basis that the European Union proceeded to enter into discussions with it. The Governments of Georgia and Moldova stated the same thing. The Governments of Georgia and Moldova signed an agreement, but the Ukrainian Government decided not to do so. I had the privilege of being part of the team that represented Ireland at the partnership summit that took place Vilnius at which the Ukrainian Government decided not to sign the agreement. That was its right, just as it was its right to decide to participate in discussions in the run-up to that Council at which it indicated that it was interested in signing. When people use the word "provocation" or "force" to indicate that the European Union forced the Ukrainian Government to participate in an association agreement or was provocative in so doing, I ask for evidence to show how the Union forced any country to participate in a discussion and dialogue.

In the period leading up to the partnership summit, the truth is the European Union dealt with the then Ukrainian Government which viewed the signing of that agreement positively and for its own reasons then changed its mind. That is their right. However, at no point does the European Union have the ability not to mention the ambition to force any country to sign an agreement with it.

My second point relates to the Members' comments on Russia. It is very important to be aware of the challenges we all face in many other areas. Let us consider what is happening in Syria, Iran and the challenges we face on climate change and the many other policy challenges that Europe and the world faces. The reality is that we need to work with Russia to reach a settlement and conclusion on other issues that will have a significant effect on the peace and stability of Europe and the world. I agree with the decision of the Council of Europe to withdraw Russian voting rights but to keep it within the Council. In many other areas, there is a clear need to be able to work with and maintain dialogue with the Russian Federation, its Ministers and its leaders.

My third point also relates to the comments that Senators have made. Senator Paschal Mooney referred to "the shifting sands of this issue", a phrase that is very apt in describing how the situation has developed. Amid all the shifting sands the reality is that the borders of another country were changed without the consent of the government in place, and with the threat of force in the background. The ballot paper for the referendum in Crimea had options that did not include the maintenance of what was then the status quo. It is correct that people articulate their perspectives of this very complicated situation, however a core point is that the borders of another country were unilaterally changed.

Fourth, what has been crucial in influencing the position the Government has reached - I think many Senators agree with me - is how the decision was reached. International law and organisations such as the United Nations and other bodies have processes and procedures in which these matters can be dealt with peacefully through negotiation and agreement. That did not happen in this instance. That is the reason the Government has taken its stance. The Government is very conscious of Irish neutrality and the fact that the bedrock of neutrality is a respect for the rule of international law - a point on which Senator Jim D'Arcy touched. The capacities and provisions are in place under international law for dealing with the right of people to self-determine how they are governed and where their borders should be, but none of that was used in the decision that was taken in Crimea. That is the reason that before I address the comments of individual Senators, I want to emphasise the fact that the European Union in the run up to the partnership summit that took place in November, did all of its negotiations on the basis of dealing with the wishes of the Ukrainian Government. The idea of force or provocation by the European Union in the run up to that period is a view that while others are entitled to articulate it is certainly one that I would strongly reject because I do not believe it is based on the facts of what happened in the run up to that summit.

I will now comment on the contributions of individual Senators. Senator Paschal Mooney made the point about the shifting sands of the situation. He picked up on historical analogies or the lack of analogies, depending on the viewpoint, between where we are now and what happened in Europe in the 1930s and 1940s. We could spend the entire afternoon debating the consistency of that analogy. The significant difference between the 1930s and 1940s and where we are now is the degree of economic interdependence between everybody across the world and within the Continent of Europe and all members of the European Union. That is best understood by what has happened in terms of energy interdependence. Some 34% of European energy needs are provided through many of the different countries that we are discussing. That provides a very clear example of interdependence and that is the reason I believe we have to look at the role of sanctions in that light. Since these measures were announced we have seen major changes take place in the value of the Russian rouble, the Russian stock market, in the capitalisation of very major Russian companies. That is an example of how the indirect effects of sanctions and the fear of investors about what could happen in the future has a very major effect not only on the Russian economy but obviously on the economies of countries nearer Russia.

Senator Catherine Noone identified one very important and worrying development that has now taken place, which is the mobilisation of the Ukrainian national guard. In my contribution I made a point of emphasising the restraint that has been shown to date but we have now seen worrying developments take place within Ukraine in response to what they perceive to be happening within their own borders. Senator David Norris referred to the European Union being cack-handed in its response. He made the vital point that it is up to the people of Ukraine to decide. That is the basis on which the European Union was dealing with Ukraine, that it was dealing with the then Ukrainian Government that wanted to proceed and wanted positive discussions with the European Union. For reasons of its own, it changed its mind on that, which is its right.

Senator Sean D. Barrett stressed the importance of the elections of 25 May, a point I strongly agree with, not least because they will deal with the concerns that many Senators have articulated on issues such as inclusivity, the security of communities within Ukraine and the different ethnic traditions within Ukraine, of which we have to be cognisant. That is the reason these elections are so important and that the period between now and the end of May is so sensitive in terms of what will happen in Ukraine in the years to come.

In respect of some of the points that Senator Aideen Hayden made, I touched on the differing view that I have on the role of the European Union up to that point. While acknowledging clearly that mistakes have been made in reaching this point also, which I absolutely understand and am aware of, I still acknowledge that the European Union was dealing with a government at the point in Ukraine that wanted to change its relationship with the European Union.

The Senator also referred to the role of a common European foreign policy and made a number of observations on it. We should be aware that foreign policy is very different from trade policy, as Members will know. In respect of trade policy, the peoples and governments of the European Union decided to make the Commission the lead negotiator and gave it a large degree of competence in that regard.

That is why, for example, the lead negotiation on the transatlantic trade and investment partnership with America is Commissioner de Gucht as opposed to the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton, or a Minister from any other country. Ultimately, they have to agree with the trade pact but the Commission has a high degree of competence in relation to it.

On foreign policy, governments and the people of the European Union have decided - I believe it is the right decision - to retain much of the competence for making foreign policy decisions in their own Ministers. The Ministers make many decisions on EU foreign policy through the Foreign Affairs Council and with the consent of their governments at home. Where that leads me is to say that we should not blame the European Union for discharging competences and powers which it does not have in the first place. Much of the power and role on foreign policy decisions sits with individual foreign Ministers. It is through agreement and compromise within the Foreign Affairs Council that a general overall approach is reached.

I wish to pick up on one point made by Senator Jim Walsh on Kosovo. I have heard the analogy put forward by other contributors to today’s debate. I put it to him that there is a very big difference between Kosovo and where we are now. The big difference is that in the period leading up to the Kosovan decision they were participating in a realm of international administration under the terms of the UN resolution to which Senator Jim D’Arcy referred. All the decisions that were made in Kosovo happened in accordance with the same international law that was not recognised in Crimea.

It was unilateral.

There are significant differences though because, as I said, what happened in Kosovo was in accordance with international law and a UN resolution but that did not happen in the case of Crimea. I suggest that is the point of difference.

I agree with the point Senator Jim D’Arcy made that the most important principle of all is international law. I also agree with his point on Kosovo which is similar to the one I just made. Like him, I believe the European Union will have a big impact on what happens in Ukraine. He is correct to say that one of the most important contributions we can make is to try to make Ukraine stable and to ensure that economic support is available to it in what will be a challenging period.

That leads me to a point made by Senator Kathryn Reilly, with which I agree, namely, that one of the most important things we can do at the moment is to support Ukraine in its journey to make its own decisions on the future and make sure it has the correct socio-economic circumstances in which to do it.

Senator Terry Leyden made the point that the European Union was being provocative and forced the issue. I completely disagree with the point. I have explained why that is the case. I agree with the decision that was made in the Council of Europe. Senator Terry Leyden also referred to exports and the impact on them, including the impact on our stability and the recovery we want to happen and continue in the future. I am deeply aware of all of the economic considerations involved and other matters that must be taken into account. As we weigh all of that up, it is vital to take account of the fact that the borders of a country on the continent of Europe were unilaterally changed. That is a major event that will have significant consequences that will ripple through us all and affect many other decisions that will be made in decades to come.

I wish to conclude on one point made by Senator David Norris which Senator Sean D. Barrett picked up, namely, Russia being a member of the European Union at some point in the future. If Senator Sean D. Barrett had said in the late 1980s in this House that we would end up in a situation where we would have many of the Baltic states as members of the European Union, a peaceful end to the Cold War and the USSR dissolve in a way that did not trigger war across the entire continent, many would have questioned the likelihood of such a vision. However, that is what happened.

One should remember the role of Mr. Gorbachev.

The Senator is correct to refer to the role of individual leaders. In the 1980s we would not have considered it possible that the USSR could have a leader like Mr. Gorbachev who would make the decisions he did.

He referred to Europe stretching from the Atlantic to the Urals.

Yes, but the point on which I wish to conclude is that we should not rule out possibilities that could occur in the future, regardless of how implausible they are now. In tandem with the condemnation of what happened in Crimea it is vital that we continue talking to all of the players involved to explore the possibility of bringing the situation to a peaceful end, which we all want to see happen. While we are cognisant of the deep challenges we face elsewhere in the world, most notably what is happening in Syria and the Middle East - of which I am most aware - we must also be conscious of the significant possibilities still within Europe for prosperity and security that might seem unlikely now but are possible given what has been achieved that seemed most unlikely many years ago.

Before I call on the Acting Leader to propose the Adjournment of the House, I wish everyone a happy Easter.

I wish the Acting Chairman a happy Easter and propose the adjournment of the House until Wednesday, 7 May at 1.30 p.m.

The Seanad adjourned at 2.20 p.m. until 1.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 7 May 2014.