The Foreign Affairs Minister has urged the EU not to be fooled by “Russian propaganda” about troops performing ‘peacekeeping functions’ in Ukraine.
It comes after the Russian president formally recognised eastern Ukrainian regions Donetsk and Luhansk as independent statelets.
Vladimir Putin also dispatched Russian troops to the regions to "perform peacekeeping functions".
The EU and US had previously warned Moscow that such a move would be illegal and would damage long-running peace negotiations in the region.
The western powers are now expected to announce significant economic sanctions in response.
On Newstalk Breakfast this morning, Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney said the deployment of Russian troops to Ukraine is a “blatant breach of international law”.
“You don’t send peacekeepers in in tanks and attack helicopters,” he said.
“This is essentially setting the scene as a steppingstone for a military takeover of parts of Ukraine. I think we need to call it out for what it is – and the EU needs to respond to that.
“Certainly, the UN Secretary General gave a good lead last night I think in terms of what is actually happening here, rather than being taken in by Russian propaganda.”
He said world leaders are “rightly pessimistic” about the situation but also realistic.
“What is now happening is that effectively Russia has recognised part of Ukraine not to be part of Ukraine,” he said.
“Because they are saying there are a lot of ethnic Russians living in that area - not a majority by the way but a significant minority - they are now saying they have to send peacekeepers in to defend them.
“That effectively is a manged information campaign to justify sending in Russian troops to part of Ukraine which is now what is happening. As I was saying, they don’t look like and I suspect won’t act like peacekeepers when they are there. So many people will describe this as the start of the invasion of Ukraine.”
Minister Coveney said the sanctions announced today will not be the full package that has been prepared to respond to a full invasion of Ukraine.
“I suspect it will be incremental because everybody wants diplomacy to reduce tension rather than this now to turn into a full-scale war in Ukraine, but I have to say I think people are very pessimistic in terms of the attitude that Russia decided to take yesterday,” he said.
“The language towards Ukraine which really was effectively saying that Ukraine never had traditional or genuine statehood.
“That is pretty aggressive language coming from Russia given what has been happening in the last number of weeks and of course it also shows up to be completely false the assurances that Russia has given us that they had no intention of invading Ukraine.”
He said Ireland remains committed to working towards “diplomatic intervention and de-escalation”.
“The alternative really is probably the largest conflict we have seen in Europe for many decades,” he said.
Minister Coveney noted that Ireland is keeping its diplomatic presence in Ukraine along with all other EU countries.
He said Irish citizens are advised not to travel to Ukraine – including parents expecting babies through Ukrainian surrogacy.
“That doesn’t mean we won’t be working with them to try and find a way of uniting babies with parents over time,” he said. “Those conversations are very much taking place.
“We had success with a number of families over the weekend to actually ensure they got home safely with their children and we will continue to work with individual cases but, as you would expect, it has become very complicated now.”
All Irish citizens currently in Ukraine are advised to leave as soon as possible.
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