The expulsion of two Irish diplomats from the embassy in Moscow has been described as “completely unjustified” by Taoiseach Micheál Martin.
The Irish ambassador to Russia, Brian McElduff, was summoned to the Russian foreign ministry in Moscow on Thursday afternoon and told two diplomats had been asked to leave.
“It is completely unjustified. The two people concerned are diplomats, engaged in nothing other than diplomatic activities. We did expel four senior members of the Russian team for behaviour not compatible with diplomatic activities and contrary to diplomatic norms,” said Mr Martin, who is in Helsinki in Finland meeting president Sauli Niinistö and Finnish prime minister Sanna Marin.
In a statement, the Russian embassy in Dublin said Moscow would respond “proportionally to any hostile steps” from the Government, which it said had been following a “destructive line towards Russia”.
The expulsion of the two Irish diplomats were “appropriate reciprocal measures” to the “unfriendly and groundless” decision by Ireland to expel four Russian diplomats from the embassy on Orwell Road last week, it said.
The Russian ministry of foreign affairs called on Irish authorities “to immediately remove any obstacles to the work of the Embassy of Russia in Dublin and ensure normal conditions for the functioning of the Russian diplomatic mission”, the statement said.
Earlier this week, it was reported that the Russian embassy had appealed to the Government for help as it faced a fuel shortage, due to Irish oil companies refusing to deliver supplies to the Dublin property.
In Helsinki, Mr Martin said that on the issue of neutrality, Ireland must play to its strengths.
“Nothing in Ireland’s position on military neutrality in any way impedes the EU response. We are not a strong military country, so we want to play to our strengths where we can be most effective in terms of our contribution. We will reflect on these issues later. For now we want to maintain our strong unity of purpose.”
Speaking after his meeting with Ms Marin, Mr Martin said the two discussed the implications for security arising from the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“While Ireland is a militarily neutral country we are not politically or morally neutral in the face of these war crimes and opposition.”
Ms Marin said the Russian invasion had fundamentally changed the security situation in Finland. Russia and Finland are separated by a 1,340km-long border.
She said more must be done to weaken Russia’s ability to finance war.
“We want to help in any way we can. We are in this situation with Ukraine and we all have to help Ukraine to win the war. And I think it is not a question of if they win the war, it is when they will win. In our hearts Ukrainians have already won the war,” Ms Marin said.
Asked if Finland would join Nato, she said there would be discussions in the coming weeks in the Finnish parliament.
Earlier, speaking after his meeting with Mr Niinistö, Mr Martin said they had a “very broad discussion in terms of the international situation, particularly the war on Ukraine, the degree to which the multilateral order has been turned upside down, the sheer barbaric nature of the attack on Ukrainian civilians, and the implications for the security architecture of Europe well into the future and the capacity of open economies like Ireland and Finland that are very alike”.
Mr Martin later travelled to Tallinn to meet the prime minister of Estonia Kaja Kallas.
In a press conference in Estonia, Mr Martin said the EU wants to phase out the dependence on Russian gas and oil.
He also said that his visit to Finland and Estonia showed him that the “world is fundamentally different because of Russia’s unjustifiable war on Ukraine”.
“We support stronger sanctions again, and will push for stronger sanctions,” Mr Martin said.
“The Irish people are horrified with the barbarity of this war on the civilians of Ukraine.”
Ms Kallas said the initial sanctions imposed by the EU were robust and quick but have not been enough, adding, “We must do more.”
“We will keep isolating Russia in every possible way as its brutal war against Ukraine continues.”
Mr Martin and Ms Kallas also discussed energy supplies and security and defence in their meeting on Friday afternoon.