Calls for expulsion of Russian ambassador intensify despite retaliation fears

Charlie Flanagan accuses ambassador of lying to Oireachtas committee over Ukraine

Government TDs and Senators are ramping up pressure to expel Russian ambassador Yury Filatov, despite concerns among senior Ministers.

On Sunday, members of the Fine Gael parliamentary party were circulating a draft petition calling for his expulsion, which had attracted signatures from 13 TDs.

It followed comments from Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney, who told the Sunday Independent he felt it was important to keep diplomatic channels open with Russia – a view mirrored by Minister for Justice Helen McEntee and Minister of State Patrick O'Donovan.

Senior Government sources fear Moscow would close the Irish embassy there in retaliation, amid ongoing demand for consular services.

Fine Gael TD Charlie Flanagan, who is chairman of the Oireachtas foreign affairs committee and a former minister for justice, called on Mr Filatov to leave the country, saying he "lied to our parliamentary committee" when he appeared before it earlier in February.

Doubled down

Fianna Fáil TDs and Senators, meanwhile, doubled down on their own petition, launched last week, to expel Mr Filatov.

On Sunday, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said “nothing is ruled out” in terms of the possible expulsion of the Russian ambassador or other diplomats, but it would be better if such a measure was taken collectively by the EU.

Government sources said there was less emphasis on expulsions in Brussels, with fears over how they could impact the functioning of humanitarian corridors - although they remain on the table. Coalition leaders are thought to be of the view that lines to Moscow need to remain open and are worried about sparking tit-for-tat expulsions.

Meanwhile, sources in the aircraft leasing sector believe a row could be on the cards over the future of hundreds of Irish-owned jets operating in Russia. The aircraft look set to be impacted by sanctions which prohibit the supply of “goods and technology suited for use in aviation”.

However, some figures cautioned it would not be as simple as ordering jets to leave operators and routes within Russia. Many hundreds of planes are leased by Irish companies such as Aercap, which has 149 leased to Russian airlines, and Dublin-headquartered SMBC Aviation Capital, which has 34 jets leased in the country, according to trade publication Airfinance Journal. The combined worth of the stock runs to the billions.

Political and business sources said there were concerns, however, that Russia would refuse to relinquish the planes, prompting a cascade of insurance claims.

A figure in the leasing industry said: “All the lessors have taskforces established within their own businesses, and a lot of them will be trying to get aircraft out of Russia and take them back.”

Briefings

Against a rapidly changing diplomatic backdrop, Irish Ministers continue to take part in briefings with EU counterparts on the bloc’s response to the invasion, and the associated fallout from sanctions imposed on Russia.

Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan will attend a meeting in Brussels on Monday with energy ministers to consider the impact of sanctions, the question of releasing oil stocks, and gas storage and trading arrangements. The decision to suspend some Russian banks from the Swift payment system on energy imports will also be discussed.

While Russia is still fulfilling gas contracts, a political source indicated the Irish position will be to push for strong united action. “We’ll have to prepare and look at further measures to protect ourselves,” the source said. The expectation is now for a sustained period of high energy and fuel costs.

Ms McEntee was in Brussels on Sunday meeting justice and home affairs ministers. They discussed emergency protection measures designed to deal with a mass influx of displaced people – including mechanisms to determine how many people would be accommodated in each member state.