Taoiseach Micheál Martin has strongly condemned “the veiled threat of nuclear deployment” that Russian president Vladimir Putin made when announcing an escalation of Russia’s war in Ukraine.
The Taoiseach said Mr Putin’s address to the Russian nation was an attempt to annex territory from Ukraine and to coerce people to leave Ukraine.
“The veiled threat of nuclear deployment is a very serious one,” Mr Martin said.
He called on Mr Putin and Russia to stop the war and declare a ceasefire. “There has been a needless killing of young people on all sides, and now more young people are going to be mobilised in Russia. For what? For an 18th-century imperialist objective, which simply cannot and will not be realised.”
Meanwhile, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has said there is likely to be an escalation in the war in Ukraine before there are any signs of progress towards peace.
In a televised address to Russians on Wednesday, Mr Putin said he had signed a decree on partial mobilisation of reservists for his war in Ukraine, saying he was defending Russian territories and that the West wanted to destroy the country.
In ordering Russia’s first mobilisation since the second World War, Mr Putin warned the West that if it continued what he called its “nuclear blackmail” that Moscow would respond with the might of all its vast arsenal.
The Taoiseach was speaking while visiting the National Ploughing Championships in Ratheniska, Co Laois before departing for New York, where he is due to address the General Assembly of the United Nations on Friday.
Mr Martin said Russia had deliberately weaponised migration. “The bombing of cities and civilian targets was designed to cause a migration crisis. It’s a new form of hybrid warfare. Now we need to be resilient against that type of warfare,” he said.
Mr Martin said such warfare posed huge challenges for Europe and for Ireland. “I think Europe needs to stand together and stay together. Democracies can be more vulnerable to the threat of unprecedented energy price increases; threats to the economy; threat to the migration pressures; food shortages globally.
“Very authoritarian autocracies, like Russia, can suppress its people to such a degree that it’s not as vulnerable sometimes as democracies are. And that’s what we have to guard against. We need to work in unison,” the Taoiseach said. “In terms of the war itself … It’s [Putin’s statement] an escalation. It’s also a land grab in terms of security, its attempt to annex territory into Ukraine, and which will involve terrorising people, suppressing people under democratic rights.”
Turning to the impact of the war on Ireland, he said it was always his view that it would be a medium-term, rather than short-term challenge.
He said there was a “hell of a lot of positivity” to the Irish response to the crisis, even though it did not always get articulated.
“The Irish people have been fantastic in response to Ukrainians fleeing war. And it’s an extraordinary response in a very short space of time that over 50,000 Ukrainians that have come here, over 40,000 are housed by the Government. That has never happened before in such numbers in such a rapid time frame,” Mr Martin said.
He said, however, Ireland was now looking at receiving 15,000 asylum seekers from other countries seeking international protection in 2022. He said that was causing strains in terms of accommodation.
Mr Martin said the number of Ukrainian refugees coming to Ireland looked like it was levelling off. “The greater pressure at the moment is on the non-Ukrainian side. That’s where the greater pressure is coming in terms of accommodation.
Speaking at the United Nations in New York on Wednesday, Mr Coveney said the announcement by Mr Putin of a mobilisation of reservists represented “a worrying escalation” of its war in Ukraine.
“This is a signal that this will be a protracted conflict that is nowhere near an end and a signal there will be lot more bloodshed and loss of lives, both Russian and Ukrainian.”
He suggested Russia was threatening peace both in Europe and in the world as a whole by its plans to intensify the conflict. He also forecast that further mass graves and evidence of war crimes by Russian forces in Ukraine would be discovered. He said veiled threats by Russia of using nuclear weapons had been made before and there should not be an over-reaction to these comments.
He said a meeting of the United Nations Security Council on Thursday would be one of its most significant in recent times. Foreign ministers of virtually all nations with seats on the security council will speak at the session and he predicted that it would be “an abrasive meeting”.
Mr Coveney said Mr Putin’s announcement represented an escalation of the conflict on two different but linked levels.
He said Russia now planned to move ahead with “sham referendums” in the parts of Ukraine that it currently occupied. Mr Coveney said Russia would get the result it wanted in the referendums were not real democratic choices as effectively they would be carried out at gunpoint.
He said Russia would then seek to justify its defence of its expanded territory on foot of the referendums and threaten the world that if its sovereignty was threatened it would respond with all of its military might.