The Republic of Ireland needs to “buckle up” and stand firm against Russian president Vladimir Putin’s regime because it will exploit any opportunity to interfere with Irish politics, according to an expert on Russian affairs who has served three US presidents.
Fiona Hill was most recently a deputy assistant to then president Donald Trump and a senior director for European and Russian affairs on the US National Security Council from 2017 to 2019.
Dr Hill is in Ireland for a five-day visit and said the modus operandi of Russia under Mr Putin was to try to undermine the faith that people in European and other western countries had in their systems. Citing the riots that occurred in Dublin last week she said: “That’s what they want to do. I bet you the Russians have been playing up what happened in Dublin over the last few days to the hilt. We have had Elon Musk piling in there and other people as well. Vladimir Putin is just the same. He wants to undermine the Irish sense and faith in your own system and your own capabilities and abilities to withstand pressure.”
Dr Hill referred to the incident in early 2022 where Irish trawlers had a stand-off with the Russian navy and were accused of being aggressive.
“It’s not about exploiting a country’s neutrality but is about actually neutralising them. They want to make sure that you can’t speak out.”
She said the Republic had a huge role in the European Union as it was its bridge to the United States following the decision by the United Kingdom to leave the EU.
She said the State does not need to lose its policy of neutrality to bring an influence to bear.
The Republic was well respected in the world and seen as a straight player, she said. “Your diplomats are very skilled. This is an opportunity to take some responsibility for speaking out, as Ireland does on so many issues. That has a value, right?”
She added: “Ireland often stands differently on issues than its counterparts, as it has on the Middle East. Military neutrality doesn’t mean you have to be neutral [on issues].”
She said now was a time to stand up on behalf of Ukraine’s independence.
“Putin and the Kremlin are depicting Russia as being in an existential war with the west.” They would “do anything” to pressure “any country that can be influenced in Russia’s further interest”, Dr Hill said. “They will hone in on any cracks in the political system. In Finland right now, the Russians are weaponising migrants, and you know, sending them on bicycles, towards the Finnish border to the point where the Finns are closing the border.
“They’ll do anything … to put a country on the back foot. So absolutely buckle up and be ready for that and don’t be bullied,” said Dr Hill, who is speaking at the Ireland’s Edge festival in Dingle, Co Kerry, on Saturday.
Dr Hill was initially impressed by Mr Putin when he came to power in 1999 but revised her opinion later when he centralised power, suppressed Chechen nationalism brutally, built up the military and turned his back on a new relationship with the west.
She says that as president, Mr Trump had no views on Russia but had strong views on the Russian president. “Putin for Trump was the ultimate strongman, as Americans say, a badass. That’s how Trump saw himself too, the swashbuckling James Bond-esque tough guy,” she said.
Ironically, the policy initially was quite tough towards Russia, she said. That was because Mr Trump wanted to look tough in front of Mr Putin.
There were some different sides to Mr Trump, she added, and one was a real fear of nuclear war. “There were policies that Trump was actually genuinely committed to. One of them happened to be nuclear weapons and nuclear negotiations. Like me and others from the 1980s, he was scared of a nuclear war.”
Dr Hill, who is not affiliated politically, was surprised to be asked to join the administration. She resigned from her position after two years and testified in the then president’s impeachment trial later in 2019. He pejoratively characterised her as a “deep state stiff with a nice accent”. Dr Hill was brought up in a mining family in the northeast of England and still retains a strong Co Durham accent.
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