European leaders meet to co-ordinate response to Ukraine-Russia tensions

EU will quickly impose ‘robust’ sanctions on Russia if it invades Ukraine, Taoiseach says

The European Union would quickly slap "robust" sanctions on Russia if it proceeds with a feared invasion of Ukraine, Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said, as leaders meet to co-ordinate a response to tensions described as the worst since the end of the Cold War.

EU leaders are meeting to discuss the issue in Brussels ahead of a joint summit with the African Union, with the mass build-up of Russian troops around Ukraine's borders threatening to overshadow the agenda.

"The European Union has made it clear that if Russia invades Ukraine, there will be united response, it will be robust and very, very significant. It will be in the form of sanctions," Mr Martin told journalists, adding that the sanctions would be enforced "very quickly".

On Thursday Ukrainian forces and Moscow-backed rebels both accused the other of firing across a ceasefire line in eastern Ukraine, the site of conflict since Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula in 2014.

Russia has blamed Nato for provoking the tensions, and has denied planning an invasion as Western leaders warned that Russia's forces numbering more than 100,000 with significant hardware and even field hospitals would allow it to attack at short notice.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has said there has not yet been "significant withdrawal" of Russian troops and equipment from the region around the Ukrainian border, despite Russian announcements that some military exercises had ended.

Mr Coveney said Ireland will push for "sustained and credible moves" towards genuine de-escalation at the UN Security Council, which will meet in New York on Thursday and be addressed by US secretary of state Anthony Blinken.

Mr Coveney said sustained and credible moves means “significant withdrawal of both troops and equipment. We have not yet seen this.”

“Our Ambassador in New York will reiterate today Ireland’s full commitment to the core principles enshrined in the UN Charter, including the sovereign equality and territorial integrity of States,” he said.

Mr Coveney said the only way forward was through diplomacy and dialogue with existing mechanisms, including the Normandy format and the OSCE.

“Eastern Ukraine has already endured eight years of conflict, resulting in a humanitarian disaster, serious human rights violations and abuses, as reported by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. It is time for a serious commitment to de-escalation, diplomacy and compromise,” he said.

‘No justification’

Mr Martin reiterated the need for de-escalation: “There is no justification whatsoever in our view, for the massing of so many troops and military hardware on the borders of the Ukraine.

“Our hearts go to the people of Ukraine who are under a lot of pressure right now from what is a very intimidatory and threatening amassing of significant troops on their border.”

The Taoiseach dismissed Moscow’s claims that Ukrainian forces and the West have been the aggressors. “There is no sense from my perspective that there’s any threat to Russia right now, from the Ukraine or from anybody else,” Mr Martin said.

“The sense I have for meeting European leaders is they want to de-escalate all of this, and they certainly do not want conflict.”

The Department of Foreign Affairs is in contact with 98 Irish citizens in Ukraine who have registered with the Embassy in Kyiv.

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O'Leary

Naomi O’Leary is Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones is a political reporter with The Irish Times

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