Ukrainian president was not ‘negative about Ireland’ – Taoiseach insists people are ‘reading too much into’ Zelensky’s remarks

The embattled leader has singled out Ireland for not supporting his country enough

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky. Picture: Reuters

John Downing and Seoirse Mulgrew

TAOISEACH Micheál Martin has rejected suggestions that embattled Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky believes Ireland is less than supportive of his country’s fight for survival.

Addressing an EU leaders’ summit in Brussels via videolink, President Zelensky reserved special praise for Poland and the three Baltic member states – Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia – for their full-on support of his country’s resistance to the Russian invasion.

He suggested EU kingpins France and Germany could do more to help.

Mr Zelensky finished his round-up of how he perceives member states to be supporting Ukrainian by saying: "Luxembourg – we understand each other. Cyprus – I really believe you are with us. Italy – thank you for your support! Spain – we’ll find common ground. Belgium – we will find arguments. Austria, together with Ukrainians, it is an opportunity for you. I'm sure of it.

Then he addressed Ireland as follows: “Ireland – well, almost."

This suggested that the under-pressure Ukrainian leader felt this country was not offering enough support.

On his way into day two of the summit, the Taoiseach rejected suggestions Ireland had been "singled out".

“That wouldn’t have been my read of it. He was actually talking in terms of the European perspective. I wouldn’t have taken the same slant that some may be taking from it,” Mr Martin told reporters.

The Taoiseach further insisted that his conversations with President Zelensky had been good and positive. “I spoke to him last week and he was very strongly in praise of the Irish contribution, both from a humanitarian perspective and also in terms of our clear support for Ukraine’s application to join the European union,” Mr Martin said.

“And he thanked me personally for my own personal commitment to that. So I’m not going to surmise in terms of whatever particular take you would take from the use of the word ‘almost’ or ‘practically’ – and I wouldn’t overstate that, to be frank.”

Mr Martin said President Zelensky’s comments could not be interpreted as meaning that he believed Ireland’s support was less intense than other countries.

“I think that’s reading too much into it if I’m honest. Obviously we’re a militarily neutral country, but we explained that we facilitated the EU peace facility which has been of enormous support to the Ukrainian people. So I wouldn’t overstate it, quite frankly,” Mr Martin said.

Mr Zelensky’s remotely-delivered speech was the third of the day to Western leaders gathered in Brussels for an unprecedented day of summits of Nato, G7 and European Council leaders, all of whom were there to discuss Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

After appealing to Nato leaders for “unlimited” military support, in his speech to European leaders Mr Zelensky got personal, delivering a roll-call of countries and their level of support for Ukraine.

He thanked EU leaders for working together to support Ukraine and impose sanctions on Russia, including Germany’s decision to block Russia from delivering natural gas to Europe through the new Nord Stream 2 pipeline.

But he criticised them for not taking the steps earlier, saying there was a chance Russia would have had second thoughts about invading.

He then appealed to the EU leaders to move quickly on Ukraine’s application to join the bloc. “Here I ask you, do not delay. Please,” Mr Zelensky said by video from Kyiv. “For us this is a chance.”

He then listed the 27 member countries, noting those he said were “for us”. He appealed to Germany and particularly to Hungary not to block Ukraine’s bid.

“Lithuania – for us. Latvia is for us. Estonia is for us. Poland is for us,” he said.

“France, Emmanuel [Macron], I really believe that you will be for us. Slovenia is for us. Slovakia – for us. The Czech Republic is for us. Romania knows what dignity is, so it will stand for us at the crucial moment.

"Bulgaria stands for us. Greece, I believe, stands with us. Germany… a little later. Portugal – well, almost. Croatia stands for us. Sweden – yellow and blue should always stand together. Finland – I know you are with us. The Netherlands stands for the rational, so we’ll find common ground. Malta – I believe we will succeed. Denmark – I believe we will succeed.”

He continued: “Luxembourg – we understand each other. Cyprus – I really believe you are with us. Italy – thank you for your support! Spain – we’ll find common ground. Belgium – we will find arguments. Austria, together with Ukrainians, it is an opportunity for you. I’m sure of it. Ireland – well, almost.”

Mr Zelensky is due to address the Oireachtas on April 6.

Last week, he thanked the Taoiseach during a phone call “for helping the people of Ukraine”.

In a tweet, Mr Zelensky said he and Mr Martin “discussed countering aggression and horrific crimes of Russia against civilians”.

He also “expressed condolences over the murder of Irish journalist Pierre Zakrzewski by Russian soldiers”.

The Taoiseach said he told Mr Zelensky that the “Irish people stand fully behind Ukraine” and that the Ukrainian leader “thanked us for our continued humanitarian aid, shelter, global support and sanctions against Russia”.

The Taoiseach has previously said Ireland would support an accelerated application by Ukraine to join the EU but that the country may not be able to join immediately.

Mr Zelensky laid down a marker for Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who has for years nurtured close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

He said “Hungary… I want to stay here and be honest. Once and for all. You have to decide for yourself who you are with.

"You are a sovereign state. I’ve been to Budapest. I adore your city. I have been many times – very beautiful, very hospitable city. And people, too. You have had tragic moments in your life. I visited your waterfront. I saw this memorial… Shoes on the Danube Bank,” he said, referring a monument to Hungarian Jews murdered during World War II.

“Listen, Viktor, do you know what’s going on in Mariupol? Please, if you can, go to your waterfront.”

The gathered leaders issued a statement reiterating their previous position on Ukraine’s application and demanded an immediate end to Russia’s aggression.

“The European Council reiterates its invitation to the Commission to submit its opinion in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Treaties,” the leaders stated. “The European Union will continue to provide co-ordinated political, financial, material and humanitarian support.”

Questioned about what more Ireland can do for Ukraine, a Ukrainian MP has said he is aware that Ireland does not have enough military weapons to send to Ukraine but that it could push for more in negotiations with the United Nations.

Volodymyr Ariev said he is “very grateful” for the military aid Ukraine has received thus far. He is currently in Kyiv.

Speaking on RTÉ Radio One’s Morning Ireland, Mr Ariev said he is not disappointed by the response from Europe as it is not a “fast process”. Ireland is currently making €22 million available for humanitarian and medical aid and has already taken in around 10,000 displaced people.

“I cannot say that we’re disappointed, the waking up of Europe is not a fast process, but we understand that Europe needs the time to understand that it’s inevitable but to help Ukraine with all kinds of aids,” he said.

“Military aids, sanctions like imposing energy trade embargo with Russia and embargo the supply companies for arms. And to support Ukraine joining EU as well as it’s important to break down Russian plan to restore Soviet Union.

“I do think that the public opinion will push more and more and I’m really grateful to all people living in Europe because they’re reflecting to the advance in Ukraine and pushing up governments to act more affective.”

Mr Ariev said weapons are vital to “beat Putin” and that the entire European economy will suffer as a result.

“To reduce the level of, the weight of refugees, it means only one thing – that we need to have weapons to stop this war, to beat Putin. This economy will suffer, European economies will suffer anyway but Ukrainian refugees will come back. I’m pretty sure most of them will come back to Ukraine to restore our country,” he said.

“They’re looking for a safe time during the war. I do think that it could be a joint decision, I can understand it, Ireland might not have enough weapons to give to it to Ukraine. But the negotiations inside the UN could push up the states who could do that.”

“We need more decisive [action] to support Ukraine in our struggle for existing. As long as NATO [is] shying away to arrange serious aid, Russia will keep on bombing us, Ukrainian citizens will suffer. We need alliance to be more decisive and to not be afraid to support victory over insane Putin plans to change the map of Europe.”

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