Ireland set to provide training for Ukraine to clear Russian landmines

Irish soldiers gained experience in clearing mines on EU training mission in Mali

Ireland may provide training to help Ukraine to clear its land of mines as part of a joint European Union military training mission agreed on Monday, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Defence Simon Coveney has said.

Mr Coveney spoke as he attended a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg to discuss how to bolster Ukraine in its defence against Russia’s invasion, sanctions on Iran, and the union’s relationship with China.

The member states approved an additional €500 million in joint EU funding to reimburse deliveries of arms to Ukraine, and signed off on a long-awaited initiative to train up to 15,000 Ukrainian soldiers within the EU, starting next month.

“This is essentially an effort by the European Union to put structure around how we can help to train and upskill the Ukrainian military, to ensure that they can protect themselves back at home in Ukraine from Russian aggression,” Mr Coveney said.

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Ireland’s defence forces can offer “niche skill sets that are helpful to Ukraine” related to “managing explosives” and “counter-IED”, he said.

“There are unfortunately many, many thousands of landmines placed across Ukraine,” Mr Coveney said. “I hope Ireland can be part of helping to train Ukrainian military to deal with [these] safely, to try to prevent the kind of horrific injuries that many civilians and indeed military personnel could suffer.”

“Ireland does have expertise in this area — we’ve been involved in an EU training mission in Mali, for example, specifically around demining.”

The Military Assistance Mission in support of Ukraine (EUMAM) will be headquartered in Brussels, and training is expected to take place in Poland and Germany.

It will be led by French Admiral Vice Admiral Hervé Bléjean and operate under the EU Military Planning and Conduct Capability (MPCC).

The provision of Irish troops to the mission is still to be decided but several Defence Forces members are expected to serve in command and control roles as well as on the ground training.

“We in the Defence Forces are looking to see how we can support this obviously subject to policy and political decisions,” said Brigadier General Gerard Buckley.

The mission will provide advice and mentorship to Ukrainian forces as well as military training, he said.

The idea of a joint EU mission to train Ukrainian soldiers had been under discussion since before Russia launched its invasion, but agreement was delayed due to fears among some member states that such an initiative could escalate tensions.

But the invasion caused a step change in EU defence policy, producing a wave of support for Ukraine and leading the bloc to use its European Peace Facility fund to pay for weapons for the first time.

The additional €500 million that will reimburse member states for weapons deliveries will bring the total spent by the EU to €3.1 billion since the invasion began. Ireland has an opt-out from sending lethal aid under the programme, and it is only funding and providing equipment such as medical kits.

Danish foreign minister Jeppe Kofod described the training mission as historic, noting it was the first time his country would participate since the country abolished its opt-out from common EU defence policy in a referendum in June.

“It’s the first time we’ve been part of establishing an EU military training mission. It’s historical for us, and it’s also a mission that in scale and operations is maybe becoming the biggest mission of the EU ever,” Mr Kofod said.

“It’s something we highly support — for us, there’s no doubt, Ukraine need all the support they can get.”

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O'Leary

Naomi O’Leary is Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime and Security Correspondent of The Irish Times