Coveney slow to dismiss Russia’s threat to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine

Minister expects ‘escalation in agression’ in the weeks ahead

Simon Coveney at the Defence Forces Training Centre, Curragh Camp, Co Kildare: The Minister says defence spending is likely to increase by 50 per cent, or €500 million annually, in the next few years. Photograph: Alan Betson

The use of a nuclear weapon by Russia in its invasion of Ukraine is not likely but it is possible, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has said.

Speaking in Boston on Friday about Russia's latest threat to deploy nuclear weapons in the war, Mr Coveney said: "I do not think we should be dismissive... of the possibility in terms of what is happening at the moment and how that could spiral out of control in the months ahead."

Mr Coveney said he was not hopeful for a diplomatic solution in the short term and there was likely to be “an escalation in the aggression” in the weeks ahead.

The last round of face-to-face talks between Russian and Ukrainian representatives held in Istanbul had made “more progress than many people realised in terms of a basis, at least for a temporary cessation of the war”, Mr Coveney said.


“We need to get back there and not talk about military victories here.

“I do not think peace will be delivered on the battlefield alone.”

Mr Coveney said Ireland would continue to back Ukraine in every way it could – politically, militarily and legally.

“We have to work with them and trying to explore a base for agreement and compromise in a way that recognises the political reality in the Kremlin too, which is not easy, to put it mildly.”

Non-lethal assistance

Ireland has committed to provide €33 million in non-lethal assistance for the Ukrainian military through the European Peace Facility.

In a question and answer session at the John F Kennedy library in Boston, Mr Coveney said the Ukrainian military funding was very unusual for Ireland. While Ireland was a neutral or non-aligned country, it was not neutral “when it comes to a war like this”.

He said Ireland, like other EU member states, was funding the Ukrainians to try defend themselves. Ireland had also put significant resources into humanitarian assistance.

Mr Coveney said Europe was "changing before our eyes" as a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Germany had changed its foreign policy almost overnight, while Finland and Sweden seemed to be on a pathway to likely membership of Nato by the end of the year.

Ireland, he said, was unlikely to look at Nato membership “any time soon” but was “certainly fundamentally re-assessing our own approach to security and defence”, he said.

Mr Coveney added defence spending was likely to increase by 50 per cent, or €500 million annually, in the next few years and he confirmed he would bring a series of proposals to the Cabinet on this issue in June. He made similar comments about the planned defence spending increase to an audience in Washington on Thursday.

Martin Wall

Martin Wall

Martin Wall is the former Washington Correspondent of The Irish Times. He was previously industry correspondent