Ireland and EU must impose sanctions on Russia now, Ukrainian MP says

Lesia Vasylenko questions if State can afford to remain neutral amid Russian strategy

Lesia Vasylenko, a member of parliament for the opposition Holos (Voice) party in Ukraine.

Lesia Vasylenko, a member of parliament for the opposition Holos (Voice) party in Ukraine.

 

Russia is practising “psychological warfare” in Ukraine, an MP from the latter country has said, urging the Republic and the European Union to introduce sanctions immediately.

Lesia Vasylenko, a member of parliament for the opposition Holos (Voice) party, told The Irish Times that tensions are rising in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv – even among Ukrainians who have become used to living with the threat of Russian incursion.

“There’s not one person in the world who can tell you whether that attack will happen, what form it will be,” she said – adding: “Aside from [Russian president Vladimir] Putin.”

Ms Vasylenko was speaking amid growing tensions between western powers and Russia over a Russian military build-up along the border with Ukraine.

With speculation and theories rife within Ukraine over the current situation, the effect is corrosive.

“[It is] really detrimental on the morale of the population,” Ms Vasylenko said. “That affects business decisions, whether to invest in new projects, whether to save money or take out cash . . . and has an effect on children living in a time of war.

“Essentially what we are witnessing is a form of psychological warfare. Ukrainians have become quite good at withstanding that over the years, but this time around it has been building up since November.”

Her party is pro-western in outlook, and supports closer integration with the EU and Nato membership for Ukraine – something which Mr Putin’s government is eager to block.

Purchasing weapons

She described how some people have been purchasing weapons, or “getting their guns out and polishing them up”, organised into newly formed units for territorial defence, sanctioned by the country’s armed forces.

Others are stockpiling supplies, or seeking to leave the country. Faced with so many different possible avenues of attack, however, she believes most such attempts are fruitless –“but whatever calms the population down, they are good”.

“If there’s an attack by air, you’re not going to fly out anywhere. If there’s an attack by land or with long-range missiles, it will be a whole different story,” she said.

Even amidst the threat of war, day-to-day life in Kyiv, she said, is largely unchanged. “Life goes on as normal because Ukrainians have lived with the fact of war for seven, going on eight, years now,” she said, referring to the conflict in the east of the country following Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Having recently visited parts of the border region which are heavily militarised, Ms Vasylenko is sceptical about a full-scale invasion that seeks to overrun the Ukrainian government and take the capital – or even the prospect of large troop movements across the border at these points.

“I don’t think there will be attacks going through the east where the border has [had] eight years to be reinforced, and there’s at least four lines of defence, there’s mines everywhere – if anyone were to cross they would incur extreme losses.” However, exchanges of fire in this region are commonplace, she said, adding that an incursion across a less militarised part of the border, with less infrastructure, was in her view more likely.

Naval exercises

Asked about the Russian naval exercises planned for next week off the Irish coast, she said Russia is “trying to show their strength and power”, and that the moves were likely part of a wider strategy of showing that Russia is “controlling the situation”.

She questioned if, in a situation like this, it is “safe for [Ireland] to remain neutral like this?”

She said sanctions are needed immediately: “The EU or any country who imposes sanctions is losing, so for that, myself and all of Ukraine are grateful. We understand they are at a loss to the economies of those imposing them . . . but they are the only thing to . . . [which] Russia reacts.”

The 2014 Maidan revolution, which saw the removal of then Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukoyvich, precipitated a shift in Ukrainian attitudes towards the West, she said, adding that deeper integration with the West, Nato and the EU was “the only way for Ukraine”.