Ukraine crisis: Russian ambassador asked to come before Oireachtas committee

Charlie Flanagan wants to ask Yury Filatov about meeting with Defence Forces Chief of Staff

The Russian ambassador has been asked to come before an Oireachtas committee amid the deepening crisis in Ukraine and ongoing controversy about naval manouevres off the Irish coast.

The committee is also set to look at his meeting with the head of the defence forces, last Friday.

Charlie Flanagan, the chair of the Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee, told The Irish Times he wants to ask Yury Filatov about the circumstances surrounding the meeting with Defence Forces Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Sean Clancy, and the subsequent publication of a photograph in a tweet from the Russian embassy account.

Mr Flanagan said he particularly wanted to ask Mr Filatov about a reference in the tweet to "prospects of contacts between armed forces" of Ireland and Russia.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney on Thursday conceded that he had contributed to bringing the Chief of Staff into public commentary and debate, after he told a meeting of the Parliamentary Party that he was "surprised" by the tweet and thought it "illl-judged". On Thursday, some present at the Fine Gael meeting said their impression was Mr Coveney was referring to the meeting itself, rather than the tweet.

Mr Flanagan said he has separately written to the ambassador expressing his concerns about the planned naval exercises within Ireland’s exclusive economic zone.

“I have acknowledged the concerns of many, including those in the fishing industry and I have asked the event be cancelled in its entirety, that he use his best endevours and influence with the Russian government and his superiors to cancel the event,” he said.

“Firstly (due to) the concerns of the Irish fishing industry and secondly, of huge importance, as a gesture of de-escalation having regard to the heightened tensions along the Ukranian border,” he said.

John Brady, the Sinn Féin spokesman on foreign affairs and defence, who is also a member of the committee, said he too believed Mr Filatov should appear. The Louth TD said he met with the Russian ambassador yesterday "and outlined my concerns not just in terms of the naval exercise but also the Ukranian border".

“I think it’s important there’s a cross-party message to the ambassador, of our concerns about trying to drag Ireland, which is a neutral country, into the crisis given the location of the naval exercise.”

There are hopes that a meeting can be agreed for next week, it is understood.