Taoiseach plays down Zelenskiy remarks that Ireland ‘almost’ stands with Ukraine

Move by Ireland on international crimes is welcomed Ukrainian minister

The Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs has publicly thanked Ireland for joining the The Group of Friends (GoF) of Accountability, an informal forum of countries expressing an intent to ensure that international crimes perptrated since the invasion of Ukraine by Russia a month ago are punished.

The group was established by countries including Colombia, Denmark and the Netherlands and on Friday evening the Department of Foreign Affairs confirmed on its social media accounts that Ireland had joined.

Welcoming the move, Dmytro Kuleba, the Ukrainian foreign minister, said his government was “grateful to our Irish partners for joining the Group of Friends of Accountability today. Undoubtedly, Ireland is at the forefront within the EU and beyond providing essential support for Ukraine in all possible ways.”

Earlier, the Taoiseach had played down comments by the Ukrainian president Voldymyr Zelenskiy, who told EU leaders last night that Ireland was “almost” supporting Ukraine.

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The comments were contained in a transcript of Mr Zelenskiy’s speech which was released overnight by the Ukrainian government.

Mr Zelenskiy singled out Ireland as a country that "almost" stands with Ukraine in an address to European Union leaders at a top Brussels summit. The comment seemed to suggest a perception on his part of somewhat qualified support for Ukraine as it battles a Russian invasion,

The Ukrainian leader spoke to the 27 leaders over video call from Kyiv and thanked member states one by one for standing with Ukraine, in particular eastern and Baltic allies, saying “Lithuania stands for us. Latvia stands for us. Estonia stands for us. Poland stands for us.”

But Ireland was among the member states he described as not offering full support. “Ireland - well, almost,” Mr Zelenskiy said, according to a translation of his remarks released by the Kyiv government early on Friday.

However, it is believed that a reading of the original Ukrainian text more clearly suggests that Mr Zelenskiy is referring to various countries’ support for his nation’s admission into the EU.

Though not entirely clear, it seemed, on why the Ukrainian president would question Ireland’s support on the that issue, that still appeared to have been broadly the way Micheál Martin was interpreting the comment when he spoke to reporters as he entered the summit venue for the second day of the meeting.

‘European perspective’

“That wouldn’t have been my read of it,” he said with regard to the suggestionquestion that the remark related to Ireland’s support of Ukraine’s cause in the war. “He was actually talking in terms of the European perspective . . I wouldn’t have taken the same slant that some may be taking from it.”

“I spoke to him last week and he was very strongly in praise of the Irish contribution both from a humanitarian perspective and also in terms of our clear support for Ukraine’s application to join the European union and he thanked me personally for my own personal commitment to that, so I’m not going to surmise in terms of whatever particular take you would take from the use of the word almost or practically and I wouldn’t overstate that to be frank.”

Asked if Mr Zelenskiy’s comments could be interpreted as meaning that he believed Ireland’s support to be less intense than other countries, Mr Martin said: “I think that’s reading too much into it if I’m honest.”

“Obviously we’re a military neutral country but we explained that we facilitated the EU peace facility which has been of enormous support to the Ukrainian people. So I wouldn’t overstate it, quite frankly.”

Ireland was the first western European country to join an informal EU grouping of mostly eastern states known as the Friends of Ukraine, which this week jointly called for Ukraine to be formally named an EU membership candidate.

Ireland also moved early to waive visas for Ukrainians before the EU moved as a whole and has sent humanitarian aid, with the government repeatedly expressing full solidarity with the country.

However, Mr Zelenskiy’s remarks may refer to Ireland’s decision not to send military aid to the country. The Government opted to send medical and humanitarian supplies alone, staying out of a joint €1 billion fund for arms for Ukraine supported by almost all other EU countries. The Ukrainian government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Portugal’s support was also described by Mr Zelenskiy as “well, almost”. Germany, which has ruled out sanctions on energy due to its economy’s dependence on Russian gas and has been criticised for a years-long policy of strengthening trade ties with Russia, was criticised for dragging its feet.

“Greece, I believe, stands with us. Germany... a little later,” Mr Zelenskiy said.

Hungary

But the Ukrainian president’s toughest words were reserved for Hungary, where state media have continued to propagate Kremlin talking points even as long-time ally of Russian president Vladimir Putin, prime minister viktor Orbán joined Western leaders in condemning the invasion.

Mr Zelenskiy accused Hungary for holding back support for some sanctions and refusing to allow weapons to be delivered through its territory.

“Listen, Viktor, do you know what’s going on in Mariupol?” Mr Zelenskiy addressed Orbán directly, referring to the Ukrainian city where tens of thousands of civilians are trapped in desperate conditions after a prolonged siege.

“And you hesitate whether to impose sanctions or not? And you hesitate whether to let weapons through or not? And you hesitate whether to trade with Russia or not?” Mr Zelenskiy asked.

“There is no time to hesitate. It’s time to decide already.”

In a statement in response, Mr Orbán’s office said he had rejected Ukraine’s requests because “they are against Hungary’s interests”.

“Hungary wants to stay out of this war, so it will not allow the transfer of arms and weapons to Ukraine,” the statement read.

“Turning off the oil and gas taps would mean Hungarian families paying the price of war,” it added, noting that 85 per cent of Hungarian households are heated by gas, and 64 per cent of the country’s oil imports come from Russia.

A group of countries led by Poland have called for an outright end to energy imports. “As long as we are purchasing energy from Russia we are financing the war,” Finnish prime minister Sanna Marin put it as she arrived at the summit in Brussels.

The mixed views among member states means that the EU did not agree to impose new sanctions on Russia at the summit, and will instead focus instead on closing loopholes in existing measures.

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O'Leary

Naomi O’Leary is Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times