Taoiseach says appeasement will not make Putin halt attack on Ukraine

On Russian leader’s invasion, Taoiseach insists: ‘A lot of people ask the question, where will Vladimir Putin stop? The truth is, he will stop where we stop him’

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in Washington: 'The lesson that has to be learned by the Kremlin and by Russia in relation to its invasion of Ukraine is: invade any more countries and you will not be successful in your military objectives, and not being successful in your military objectives in my mind is a defeat.' Photograph: Niall Carson/PA

Appeasing Russian leader Vladimir Putin over Ukraine “will not make him stop”, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said.

“The truth is he will stop where we stop him,” Mr Varadkar told The Irish Times in an interview in Washington amid his official US visit to mark St Patrick’s Day.

The Taoiseach maintained that when, in a speech on Wednesday, he said Ireland would work to ensure those who launched the war in Ukraine were defeated, this did not necessarily mean a total military defeat for Russia. However, he said what he meant was that it needed “to be clear to everyone that Russia will have lost this war”.

“Despite what people may say, everyone knows the United States did not win the war in Vietnam and learned a lesson from that. I think it is very clear that the Soviet Union did not win the war in Afghanistan and learned a lesson from that.

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“The lesson that has to be learned by the Kremlin and by Russia in relation to its invasion of Ukraine is: invade any more countries and you will not be successful in your military objectives, and not being successful in your military objectives in my mind is a defeat.”

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Mr Varadkar said he believed war crimes had been committed in Ukraine and that “those who were involved in them or ordered them in my view need to be held to account”.

However, he said he was realistic and was aware that a number of large countries including Russia and the United States did not recognise the International Criminal Court. (ICC).

He said he did not believe that “people in the Kremlin will be all that concerned about” the court.

He said Ireland believed in international law and international values and wanted to see these built up over the coming decades, and that the country stood behind the ICC.

The Taoiseach said “we need to see peace in Ukraine but there will be no lasting peace unless it is a just peace”. He said this means Ukraine maintaining its independence, sovereignty, democratic European path and right to self-determination.

“A lot of people ask the question, where will Vladimir Putin stop? The truth is, he will stop where we stop him,” he said.

“Some people make the case for appeasement. But Russia already occupied parts of Moldova, already occupied parts of Georgia, occupied Crimea, which is part of Ukraine.

“I think appeasement will not cause him to stop, and that is why the stakes are now so high. America, the EU, the free world needs to say, ‘This is a line in the sand that you have crossed. You have gone too far.’”

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Mr Varadkar said he had not been pressed by any world leader for Ireland to provide weapons to Ukraine.

He said Ireland’s role is discussed in European Council meetings and in direct conversations with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

Mr Varadkar said there was an understanding that Ireland was militarily neutral, not a member of Nato, and did not have a huge stock of weapons to send to Ukraine even if it wanted to.

He said there was appreciation that Ireland could help in other ways, such as with the number of refugees being accommodated and through other political and financial support.

The Taoiseach said the issue of protection of undersea cables off the Irish coast had not been raised with him in any international meeting. He said he believed it was “important that those cables are secure”.

He said the “best thing we can do is build up our own defences and that is set out in the Defence Commission plan”, such as developing radar and naval capability, which was under pressure due to recruitment and retention difficulties in the Naval Service.

Martin Wall

Martin Wall

Martin Wall is the former Washington Correspondent of The Irish Times. He was previously industry correspondent