EU leaders agreed last night to jointly purchase one million artillery shells and send them to Ukraine over the next year, as Taoiseach Leo Varadkar warned that “appeasement has failed” and “Putin will stop where we stop him”.
Senior officials have said, however, that Ireland would not contribute to military aid to Ukraine and the agreed conclusions of the EU leaders at the Brussels summit specified that the decision to send artillery shells was “without prejudice to the specific character of the security and defence policy of certain member states” – giving an opt-out to neutral states like Ireland.
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy urged EU leaders not to delay, while sources in Brussels said that the Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba told an earlier meeting that his country needed three things: “ammunition, ammunition, ammunition.”
Kyiv has told the EU that it needs 350,000 shells per month this year to fight Russian incursions and launch its own counter-offensive.
Speaking on his way into the two-day summit yesterday, Mr Varadkar said the international reaction to Russia’s prior annexation of Crimea had been inadequate and likened the situation to Europe in the 1930s during the rise of nazism in Germany.
“Appeasement has failed,” Mr Varadkar told reporters.
“We know from our history from what happened in the 1930s and 1940s what happens if you continue with an appeasement policy that’s failing,” he said.
“People often ask the question: ‘where will Putin stop?’ Putin will stop where we stop him.”
The 27 EU leaders later approved the decision to send a million rounds of artillery to Ukraine as part of the bloc’s assistance to the embattled country, which has been under Russian attack for more than a year.
Irish officials insisted, however, that the decision did not affect Ireland’s traditional policy of military neutrality.
“Ireland has abstained constructively from joining the European Defence Agency framework for the procurement of ammunition,” a spokesman for the Taoiseach said in response to questions from The Irish Times.
“We do provide non-lethal equipment to Ukraine through the European Peace Facility including medical equipment, first aid kits, food parcels, personal protective equipment, uniforms and fuel.”
Asked how can the Taoiseach say we must stop Putin but refuse to play any part in military aid, the spokesman said: “Ireland is not politically neutral regarding Ukraine but we are militarily neutral.
“Nevertheless, we are supplying up to 30 Defence Forces personnel in the European Union Military Assistance Mission to train the Ukrainian Armed Forces and co-ordinate EU member states’ activities delivering the training.”
He added that Irish soldiers could be involved in training in explosives disposal, medical and engineering training.
[ Varadkar pledges Ireland’s continued ‘support’ for Ukraine in call with Zelenskiy ]
Officials also stressed Ireland’s contribution in medical supplies, fuel, uniforms and body armour, as well as the acceptance of more than 75,000 refugees from Ukraine.
Since Russia’s invasion spurred the EU to take the unprecedented step of jointly paying for weapons for Ukraine, Ireland has used a policy called “constructive abstention” to allow for its military neutrality.
This means Ireland does not provide lethal weapons itself but neither does it stop others from doing so. For every billion euro that the EU agrees to spend on arms for Ukraine, Ireland commits to €22 million in non-lethal aid like helmets and medical kits.
Government sources said this contribution should not be underestimated and that Ukraine had included non-lethal equipment on its “wish list” for supplies.
In their joint conclusions, the EU leaders demanded that Russia “immediately ensure the safe return of Ukrainians forcibly transferred or deported to Russia, in particular children”.
The Russian government has been open about efforts to bring Ukrainian children to Russia and last week, the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for the unlawful deportation of children for Russian president Vladimir Putin and the country’s children’s commissioner, who has spoken of “adopting” a 15-year-old from the ruined city of Mariupol herself.