Ireland would support sanctioning Russian energy exports, Coveney says

Russia ‘completely underestimated’ EU response to invasion of Ukraine, Minister says

Ireland would support the targeting of Russian energy exports in upcoming talks on sanctions at a European Union level, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has said.

Mr Coveney, who will meet his Polish counterpart for talks in Warsaw on Friday, told The Irish Times that Ireland is open to such a step.

“If it were proposed that energy products were to be limited or banned, we would support that,” he said.

Limiting or suspending energy imports is among the most contentious steps the EU could take, given the high level of dependence among some States on Russian fuels – something Mr Coveney acknowledged, saying all steps would have to be taken on the basis of unity.

He said the EU response had been "comprehensive" so far, and that the union had been "completely underestimated by Russia as an entity that didn't have the capacity to respond in the way that it has."

Mr Coveney indicated he would be open to sending Irish troops or public servants to assist Poland's efforts in receiving hundreds of thousands of people fleeing the conflict in Ukraine, if needed.

Ahead of talks on Friday with Polish foreign minister Zbigniew Rau and NGOs active on the Ukraine border, he said Ireland was open to providing any assistance it could to Poland, which had been "extraordinarily generous" in receiving refugees.

War crimes

Mr Coveney said the number of refugees from Ukraine in Ireland could reach between 18,000 and 22,000 by the end of March, with between 600 and 800 now arriving daily – “numbers that Ireland simply has never experienced before in terms of refugees arriving here”. He said about 8,000 had already come.

He said he believed Russian president Vladimir Putin was guilty of war crimes, amid the ongoing bombardment of Mariupol and other Ukrainian cities. "Vladimir Putin has to take responsibility for his own military. They are undoubtedly deliberately targeting civilians, they have used cluster munitions and they have used hugely powerful weapons in built-up areas," he said.

Mr Coveney said discussions were under way to double the European Peace Facility – the fund used to provide military support by EU countries to Ukraine – to €1 billion. If this was agreed, the Irish contribution – ring-fenced for non-lethal supplies – would grow to €22 million.

Diplomatic efforts should focus on reaching out to countries such as China, India and Turkey, who in turn could help persuade Russia of the need to change course, he said. "This war is madness. It is illegal, a complete undermining of the UN charter, and it's destabilising relationships and causing humanitarian misery on an enormous scale," he said. "This war is in nobody's interests. Everybody is losing."

He welcomed progress towards potential peace talks, saying he was hopeful, but added: “It’s hard not to be sceptical given what’s happening militarily. There is no evidence that I’ve seen in terms of intelligence that Russia is planning to withdraw its troops.”

On the prospect of imposing a no-fly zone over Ukraine, he said if it could have been put in place without escalating the war beyond the country, “it would have happened by now”.

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones is a political reporter with The Irish Times