EU ministers agree not to expel Russian ambassadors despite widespread calls

Political community join in condemnation of belligerent Russia for ‘waging war in Ukraine’

Opposition and Government politicians have called for the expulsion of Russian ambassador to Ireland Yury Filatov over his country's invasion of Ukraine.

However, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said European Union ministers agreed not to expel Russian ambassadors but he said this and other options "remain on the table".

Mr Coveney said: “On my instruction, the Secretary General of my Department today summoned the Russian Ambassador to make clear the government’s strong condemnation of the invasion and Russia’s gross violation of international law and the UN charter.”

He said that EU ministers decided as a bloc not to expel Russian ambassadors but “this and other possible diplomatic measures remain on the table.”

He confirmed Ireland’s diplomatic team has left Ukraine and they will operate the Kyiv Embassy remotely from Dublin.

The Department of Foreign Affairs remains in contact with 94 Irish citizens in Ukraine who have registered with them.

“The safety and security of Irish citizens and their dependents in Ukraine is our priority,” a statement said.

Earlier, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald called for expulsion of Mr Filatov. Labour Party spokesman on foreign affairs Brendan Howlin also said the Republic should “seek a co-ordinated EU and like-minded countries’ response” by expelling Russian ambassadors .

Ms McDonald said “significantly strengthened” sanctions are needed against Russian over the invasion of Ukraine.

Strengthened sanctions

"The sanctions announced to date against the Russian Federation and the oligarch elites close to President Putin are having no effect in deterring the invasion . . . they are simply insufficient to persuade Putin to reverse course."

She added that the Republic’s solidarity with Ukraine must mean significantly strengthened sanctions against the Putin regime.

“We need sanctions which can end Russian aggression against Ukraine and force a complete withdrawal of Russian military forces.”

Ms McDonald said Dublin's IFSC is a significant European centre for financial services and the Irish Government needs to take a lead in arguing for rapid and decisive sanctions which freeze the assets of President Putin's financial backers and shut off the Russian banking system from Europe's.

“The European Union cannot take a wait-and-see approach to the course of Russia’s armed aggression against Ukraine’s sovereign territory. Putin has already crossed the threshold of where the EU promised a decisive response,” she said.

Exclusion of Russia

Mr Howlin's criticique chimed with that of the Sinn Féin leader. He said the invasion demands an international response. "The sanctions set out to date do not go far enough. Ireland should call publicly for the exclusion of Russia from the Swift financial system."

The Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications (Swift) enables banks worldwide to send and receive money transfer orders and information.

“The invasion of a democratic country on our continent with such brutality has not been seen since the second World War . . . we should welcome to Ireland those who seek refuge from this terrible conflict.”

Fianna Fáil MEP Billy Kelleher said the Republic "should take the lead and kick the Russian ambassador out of our country".

He said other EU member states should do the same.

Fine Gael TD Neale Richmond joined protesters at the Russian embassy in Dublin. “The Russian ambassador is here as a guest of the State. As Russia wages war in Ukraine, the ambassador is no longer welcome here. He must be expelled,” said Mr Richmond.

Minister Simon Coveney said that the Foreign Affairs Council discussion have led to the EU adopting “a strong sanctions package which will have a long lasting effect on the Russian economy including on the oligarchs and individuals who have supported the invasion of Ukraine.”

He said the names of Russian President Vladimir Putin and his foreign minister Sergei Lavrov have been added to the list of those who will have their assets frozen in the EU.

Mr Coveney said: “On behalf of Ireland I made the case for the inclusion of SWIFT in a further package of sanctions expected to be agreed in the coming days.”

Aggressive attack

He also said ministers discussed the humanitarian consequences of Russia’s “aggressive attack” and encouraged support for a humanitarian response from the EU.

Mr Coveney said Ireland has already allocated €10m for humanitarian action.

He said that EU ministers decided as a bloc not to expel Russian ambassadors but “this and other possible diplomatic measures remain on the table.”

“As Minister for Foreign Affairs, I have a responsibility to consider the potential impact of decisions I take on our ability to assist Irish citizens in Russia and Ukraine and we are are maintaining a clear line of communication for now,” Mr Coveney added.

In the Dáil on Thursday Tánaiste Leo Varadkar criticised Sinn Féin for questioning the previous expulsion of a Russian diplomat back in 2018. It came after Sinn Féin deputy leader Pearse Doherty called for "significant and severe economic sanctions" against Russia.

Mr Varadkar said he welcomed Sinn Féin’s support on the matter and pointed to 2018, following on from the Salisbury nerve agent attack, when he said Ms McDonald was “critical of us for expelling a Russian diplomat at the time”.

“She said it was a violation of our neutrality,” said Mr Varadkar. “The Taoiseach has raised it before, I’ve never said anything about it, for a long time your party has been soft on Russia.”

Social Democrats TD Cian O'Callaghan said it was not the time for "political scoring" from any sides of the Oireachtas.