The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Defence, Simon Coveney, has said Ireland wants Russia to answer for "mass murder" and probable war crimes in Ukraine, and fully supports a proposed EU oil embargo on Moscow and Kyiv's ambition to join the bloc.
He said Ireland would not send weapons to Ukraine, however, but would continue to provide non-lethal equipment to its armed forces and offer safe haven to Ukrainians fleeing a Russian invasion that has killed thousands of people and displaced more than 10 million.
“We know that the brutality and violence . . . is something that is likely to be determined as war crimes in the future,” Mr Coveney said during a visit to Kyiv on Thursday.
He said it was “up to international lawyers to decide” whether Russian crimes in Ukraine met the definition of genocide: “But undoubtedly it was mass murder,” he told The Irish Times. “This was the deliberate targeting of civilians.”
On a visit to the town of Bucha outside Kyiv, where Ukraine says Russia murdered hundreds of civilians, Mr Coveney said he saw evidence of mass graves "that did not have military personnel in them; they had civilians of different ages, men as well as women."
Accountability for atrocities
He announced €3 million in Irish funding for the International Criminal Court (ICC) "to make sure there is a team in place that can document everything that happened and build a case to ensure there will be accountability at some point in the future.
“It’s very, very difficult for the ICC to take a case against a country like Russia or other military superpowers but I think there is real determination, given the strength of the evidence base, that this should happen this time,” he said by phone from Kyiv.
“It was the mayor of Bucha’s big ask of me – that there must be accountability for these atrocities, that we owe it to the families and the survivors.”
Ireland has welcomed about 23,000 Ukrainian refugees since the start of Russia’s invasion on February 24th, provided €20 million in humanitarian aid to the embattled country, and contributed and pledged a total of €33 million in EU military assistance to Kyiv.
Mr Coveney said the Government had no plans to send weapons to Ukraine, however, despite its urgent need for anti-tank missiles and other arms.
Instead, Ireland would be “funding body armour, helmets, medical kit, food parcels, fuel and other things the Ukrainian military needs” as it braces for what he described as “a hugely challenging [Russian] military offensive in the coming days” in the eastern Donbas region.
Ireland was backing calls for an EU oil embargo on Russia as part of “a maximalist approach to sanctions, so we have the strongest possible deterrent to the continuation of this madness”.
“We signed off on €1.5 billion in [EU] military support for Ukraine, but we are spending billions of euro every week in the EU on oil and gas from Russia . . . contributing to the war machine of the Kremlin.”
Mr Coveney noted that Ireland would sit on the executive council of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons from May, and said he had heard “real concern” in Ukraine that Russia could use such weapons “in the coming days and weeks”.
He said he hoped Ireland’s peace process and Belfast/Good Friday Agreement could “provide some inspiration during these incredibly difficult and dark times for Ukraine”, and assured his hosts that Ireland would “strongly advocate to ensure that your journey to EU membership happens as rapidly as possible”.