Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has said it is time for the European Union to introduce sanctions against Russia after it ordered troops to enter eastern Ukraine.
There was "no way" the EU could "ignore what is a blatant breach of international law," he said of Russian leader Vladimir Putin recognising two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine and sending troops in.
Russia was trying to provide a “staged justification” for entering Ukraine, he said, and Mr Putin’s claim that Russian troops were entering the regions for peacekeeping was “nonsense”.
"You don't send peacekeepers in in tanks and attack helicopters," he told RTÉ.
He was speaking as EU ambassadors met in Brussels to decide whether the move by Putin, who ordered Russian troops to secure the self-declared republics in eastern Ukraine, constitutes an invasion and how to respond.
Government figures have stopped short of calling the Russian move an "invasion." Taoiseach Micheál Martin, speaking in Berlin, described it as an "encroachment".
Asked on RTÉ's Morning Ireland whether people were slow to call this an invasion by Russia of Ukraine, Mr Coveney said: "We are seeing in many ways Russia moving its troops into another state and people can describe that in any way you want.
“What you will hear from the EU is a very firm message to criticise Russia for that decision but whether they will describe that as the start of a full-scale invasion of Ukraine - probably not, I’d say - at least this morning anyway. We will wait to see what happens over the next few hours.”
The 27 member states are expected to agree on some sanctions targeting individuals involved in the land grab of Donetsk and Luhansk, but hold back on tougher steps that could hit wider economic ties.
Mr Coveney said Russia’s stance was troubling which was why the US, the UK and the EU would be issuing sanctions to stop further Russian action.
“This is a situation where there needs to be focus on diplomacy and dialogue,” he said.
A full package of sanctions would not be introduced unless there was a full invasion, Mr Coveney added. “The EU will have to respond in a firm way.”
International law did not recognise the actions of Russian troops in moving into a part of Ukraine even if president Putin recognised them as independent states.
Ireland's ambassador to the UN Geraldine Byrne Nason told a UN Security Council meeting in New York on Monday night that this was "a moment of great danger for the people of Ukraine" and "for peace and security in Europe. "
“Ireland’s commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognised borders is unwavering,” she said.
She described Russia’s move as “a flagrant violation of international law.”
Mr Coveney said there remained between 60 and 70 Irish citizens in Ukraine all of whom had been encouraged to leave in recent days, but some were married to Ukrainian citizens, had families and considered Ukraine as their home. It would now be difficult to get out, he warned.
The Department of Foreign Affairs has been communicating with Irish families awaiting surrogate babies in Ukraine. The situation was “hugely traumatic” for them.
The advice remained not to travel to Ukraine. “We will work with families to ensure they are reunited with their children as soon as possible,” he said.
Minister of State for European Affairs Thomas Byrne said the EU must inflict tough sanctions on Russia to deter it from further action in Ukraine.
“What’s happened is a grotesque breach of international law. It’s a grotesque breach of the sovereignty of Ukraine,” Mr Byrne said.
“That is something that Ireland . . . we struggled to obtain in terms of directing our own foreign policy, and our own territorial integrity.”
Russia supplies an estimated 40 per cent of EU gas imports, and one point of division between EU member states has been over whether the energy trade should be affected.
Interrupting the flow of gas would hurt Russia economically but would also cause the EU supply problems at a time when prices are already high.
Mr Byrne called for the acceleration of the transition to alternative energy sources in order to improve the EU’s geopolitical resilience.
“One of the things that Putin I think fears is the whole climate change agenda, where we have tried to remove our dependence on gas particularly from Russia,” he said.
“We’ve got to accelerate our move to alternative fields in the coming years. And that’s a really, really important geopolitical objective as well as being a climate objective as well,” he added.
“Ireland is not directly affected by Russian gas as much as others are. But the supply of gas to Europe is a big problem, there’s no question about that.”
Russian ambassador to Ireland Yuriy Filatov has denied that Russia is preparing for war. "We are ready to ensure peace," he said.
"War is never an option for us" he told RTÉ Radio's Today with Claire Byrne show.
War was not a good option “when trouble comes” but Russia was “perfectly able” to defend itself and its people.
The EU had “failed miserably” and sanctions would not be an issue for Russia, added the ambassador.
The Irish Anti War Movement has organised a demonstration outside the Dáil on Thursday evening, saying both Nato and Russia should keep "hands off Ukraine".
Roger Cole of the Peace and Neutrality Alliance (PANA) and Richard Boyd Barrett of People Before Profit (PBP) are due to speak at the event.
PBP encouraged its members to attend and said the Ukrainian people were “caught between two rival imperialist blocks and neither Nato or the Putin regime can offer any solutions to the problems they face”.
It was “more important than ever to voice our opposition to war,” a statement from PBP on Facebook said.
Ireland's Independent MEP Mick Wallace criticised Nato and called for Europe to campaign for its abolition in the wake of the escalating crisis in Ukraine.
In a social media post, he claimed that “only a full-scale war between Russia and Ukraine would satisfy Nato.”
“The people of Europe must campaign for the abolition of Nato; it has nothing good to offer anyone that prefers peace to war,” he said.