Russia should neither run naval exercises off the Irish coast, nor invade Ukraine – but its mobilisation on the Ukraine border is "clearly defensive", Irish MEPs Mick Wallace and Clare Daly have said.
Both said they were opposed to Russian naval exercises planned off the Irish coast – but that military exercises by Nato countries should also be objected to.
“We should tell the Russians we don’t want it but we should tell everyone else as well,” Mr Wallace said.
Live-fire exercises necessitating notices to air traffic control, such as are planned by the Russian navy off the Irish coast next month, are rare, security sources say.
Ms Daly and Mr Wallace have described the European Parliament as being "anti-Russian", while positions tabled on Russian issues by Mr Wallace have caused tensions within the Left group of which he is a member in the parliament.
Russia has sent more than 100,000 troops and much heavy weaponry towards Ukraine in recent weeks, and threatened to take "military-technical" action if Nato refuses to bar Ukraine and other eastern Europe states from joining the alliance and does not withdraw its forces from the region – demands that Washington calls "non-starters".
However, Ms Daly, a Dublin MEP, has claimed there is “no evidence that Russia has any desire to invade Ukraine, it would be of no benefit to them”, adding that the Russian “mobilisation is clearly defensive”. She said Russian claims that their moves are defensive “stands up to scrutiny”, and that Russia was reacting in response to Nato pushing farther and farther towards its borders, and the arming of Ukraine by western powers. She said that “Russian involvement in Crimea has the clear support of the majority of the population in that area”, referring to the annexation of Crimea from Ukraine by Russia in 2014.
The Russian forces have been massing on the border of Ukraine, leading to warnings of severe economic sanctions by the US and EU in response to any incursion.
“There is no evidence of a Russian invasion but rather a limit to how much they will be pushed around by Nato interference on its borders,” Ms Daly added.
Mr Wallace denied being pro-Russian – saying "I can't think of one government I like" – but added that he does "fight the anti-Russian and anti-Chinese rhetoric". "I agree we shouldn't let the Russians have military exercises off Ireland, and yet at the same time we're letting the Yanks use Shannon [Airport] to f***ing destroy countries with large Muslim populations," he said.
Ms Daly similarly said she does not support "any government anywhere" and that she is pro-peace and pro-dialogue. She said she has never expressed support for Russian president Vladimir Putin, but is an "unapologetic opponent of the rampant Russophobia that prevails and only benefits the military-industrial complex", she said.
Ms Daly said she is opposed to military exercises anywhere, by any state actor, including Russia – due to her stance as an anti-war activist. She too referenced the use of Shannon Airport by the US military, saying that given this use of the airport “it is no wonder that the Russians probably felt this was a door to be pushed”.
On plans by Irish fishermen to protest at sea during the Russian exercise, Mr Wallace said they “could be right” that the military exercise presents a threat to their livelihoods, but asked: “Why didn’t they protest about Nato [exercises] which go on a lot more regularly than the Russians do?”
On Ukraine, he said the US bore significant responsibility for the country becoming what he termed a “basket case”, and said there is “huge exploitation” of the country, including by “loads of European companies bleeding the place dry”.
“There’s reasons why Ukraine is a basket case today, and it isn’t all Russia’s fault. But I think it would be completely wrong of Russia to invade Ukraine.”
Ms Daly said there was “incredibly troubling” hysteria being “whipped up” over Ukraine, and called on Ireland and the EU to “talk down the hawks, de-escalate and argue for the peaceable resolution of disputes through diplomacy”. She said the ratcheting up of Nato troops is “only making the situation worse”.
Asked about whether Russia was pursuing a policy of expanding its sphere of influence over neighbouring countries, Mr Wallace said the country “is entitled to be concerned about the expansion of Nato eastwards, which had been agreed in 1991 with [former Soviet leader Mikhail] Gorbachev wouldn’t happen” but subsequently has. He also accused the US of funding far-right militias in the Donbas region, and said Nato troops being stationed in eastern Europe was destabilising the region.