Dáil Statement on the Second Anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine

Dáil Statement on the Second Anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine

Full Transcript:
Dep. Marc Ó Cathasaigh: As others have done, I have no doubt, I acknowledge the presence of the Ukrainian ambassador and the distinguished guests gathered for what is a very sad occasion as we mark the second anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of the sovereign territory of Ukraine. Two years ago, just on the eve of the war, we all watched Russia’s troops amassing on the border with a sense of foreboding and, I think, a sense of disbelief that we were going to again see a land war on continental Europe. I doubt many of us would have predicted that we would still be in that state of conflict some two years later. I acknowledge the solidarity of peoples all across Europe for those defending their homeland from Russia’s illegal aggression, and that should be acknowledged, but it is absolutely nothing alongside the courage and commitment of those Ukrainians directly engaged in the conflict and the defence of their homeland. If Volodymyr Zelenskyy, whose greatest battle up to then had been “Dancing with the Stars”, had turned tail and run to some apartment in New York to live out his days as a president in exile, I doubt any of us here would have been greatly surprised. In fact, it is probably what Vladimir Putin was counting on. Instead, he has shown us to be one of the great wartime leaders. Rather than accept a US offer to evacuate, he told the world, “The fight is here. I need ammunition, not a ride.” I think that is a line that will resonate down through history. It is a great counterfactual, but how differently would a Ukrainian resistance have fared against a Russian onslaught if its leader had taken the easier decision to cut and run? Would it have been able to hold out so valiantly against such overwhelming odds? I suspect not. Would Ukraine have been as successful in eliciting the support needed to counteract that superior force without President Zelenskyy’s work on the international stage, eyeballing world leaders with that sense of moral conviction of somebody who has chosen to stay and fight rather than cut and run? Again, I very much doubt it.

When we look at Putin’s model for this war, what we see here is a full-spectrum war. It is being fought obviously at the front lines in that typical hot war, and it is being fought with conventional weapons, albeit with newer technologies applied. It is being fought in the digital world. It is being fought through information networks, in attacks on cybersecurity. Across Europe, it was fought as an energy war, primarily. It was about throttling the supplies of fossil fuel energy in an attempt to undermine European solidarity. In this, I think the war in a sense was the last sting of a dying wasp. I suspect Putin’s advisers had said, “The era of fossil fuels is drawing to a close, and if you want to leverage the fossil fuels we supply into Europe, now is the opportunity to do so.” Russia had that stranglehold over energy in Europe, and that was going to be loosened sooner or later. There is an irony in the fact that the conflict has precipitated an energy transition that I do not think we could have imagined across Europe on the eve of the war in its pace and its scale.

All across the developing world, it has been a war waged through resources and through hunger. I think of the immense collateral damage we have seen all across the developing world. I think in particular of the Horn of Africa, where commodity prices, food prices, went through the roof. It is a war that has weaponised human suffering and the immiseration of people who are already locked out of so many of the opportunities we experience here in the western world. Long before the actual physical transgression of Ukraine’s borders, Putin’s forces had been laying the groundwork for what they expected to be a speedy victory. A concerted campaign of disinformation and the use of troll farms across social media channels were aimed at weakening western democracies. We should be alive to that continuing threat now, a very real one, and Russia is by no means the only bad-faith state actor out there seeking to undermine our democratic processes. We should be especially alive to that in 2024, a year of elections, with almost half the world’s population going to the polls this year. We should be increasingly aware of the power of the digital tools that are at the disposal of people who want to interfere in our democracies in that way.

We are also seeing writ large the failure of Ostpolitik as practised for many years by the CDU in Germany with the flawed rationale that economic dependencies would insulate us against military aggression. It was a myopic policy built on the promise of cheap energy, upon which so many of our economies, but particularly the German economy, was founded – deliberately, strategically cheap energy which was aimed at undermining energy security and creating dependency. We should learn the lessons of that failure. Our democratic countries should not be built on the energy resources of despots. That is one of the many harsh lessons we should take from this conflict. In that regard, Ireland is almost uniquely well placed to help implement those learnings. If Ostpolitik taught us to look east for our energies, to undemocratic countries, then, as regards the future energy we hope to generate, particularly off the west coast of this island, we should encourage the democracies of Europe to look west for that energy, to look to one of the most stable and long-lived democracies within Europe, which is our own.

What other lessons do we need to look at? What other lessons do we need to learn from this conflict? This might be a very long lens, but we do have to ask ourselves about what geopolitics will look like in a post-growth Europe. Currently, our geopolitics is very much aligned with that vying or jostling for position based on a very simplistic GDP measurement of growth. We know that is not sustainable in the longer term. We know we need to decouple emissions from our understanding of what it is that economies do for us as a society. If, however, Europe becomes one of the first movers in that process, how does that change the interaction in terms of geopolitics? As I said, that might be a long-lens view, but it is a question we need to grapple with. I agree with the views of Richard Wouters, who says that a well-being economy could be a geopolitical asset and that the normative power, which is that power to project and to export one’s value, is an essential part of what it is to do geopolitics. It is the part that Europe has been most successful at. We have not established ourselves as a military power, and I would not like to see us become a military power, but that normative power we have is important.

I think what Putin failed to grasp when he initiated this war was the resilience of the Ukrainian people but also the solidarity of people across Europe, who I think realise that what is happening in Ukraine is a defence of our European democracies.

We are in the front line when it comes to defending so much that is good about our European Continent. As a nation, Ireland has responded. There certainly are major issues. There are issues in the context of pressure on resources and services. The wider issue of immigration has come to the fore within political discussion, but the long lens of history will tell us that Ireland has responded well to this and that we have risen to the challenge. When we were called upon to provide services and refuge for so many Ukrainian people who came to our shores seeking safety, we rose to the challenge. I very much hope we continue to rise to that challenge for the length of time this prolonged period of conflict lasts.