Sinn Féin’s stance on Russia has changed drastically since war broke out in Ukraine
‘Russia and the EU should have been working together to create mutually beneficial and non-exclusive economic, political and social relationships with Ukraine,” Sinn Féin MEP Matt Carthy said in 2015.
Instead Russian and EU strategic interests in the region have plunged Ukraine into crisis.”
The then MEP – now one of the party’s most prominent TDs – was speaking about his decision to abstain on a resolution vote in the European Parliament. It related to a report that condemned human rights abuses in Russia and criticised Putin’s annexation of Crimea in Ukraine.
“The conflict in Ukraine has stemmed from a zero-sum geopolitical game between Russia and the West that put Ukraine in the position of choosing to ally itself with one or the other,” he said.
All of the party’s MEPs, namely Lynn Boylan, Martina Anderson, Mr Carthy and Liadh Ní Riada, abstained.
Although the resolution passed, it is one of many examples of the position the party used to hold on Russia.
With the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine approaching, questions remain over Sinn Féin’s relationship with the Putin regime. It comes as a US human rights lawyer and author who has argued Russia’s war in Ukraine is legal met Sinn Féin elected representatives this week in Belfast.
It is far-fetched in the extreme to suggest that this amounts to some sort of endorsement
Dan Kovalik published a book in 2017 saying Russia has been “scapegoated” by the US and alleging the CIA and the “deep state” are conspiring to “vilify Putin”. He has written articles about how Russia’s war is legal under international law and said eastern Ukraine should join Russia.
Photos posted online show Sinn Féin MP Chris Hazzard, Stormont Speaker Alex Maskey and Belfast city councillor Seanna Walsh meeting with Mr Kovalik.
Sinn Féin previously hosted an adviser to the controversial Nicaraguan leader Daniel Ortega at its ard fheis.
A spokesperson for the party said it was “far-fetched” to suggest this week’s meeting represents an endorsement of Russia.
“You are referring to the attendance of a number of individuals at a book launch and public discussion about Nicaragua and wider Latin American politics held at the James Connolly Visitor Centre in Belfast. It is far-fetched in the extreme to suggest that this amounts to some sort of endorsement of an individual’s views on Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine.”
While Sinn Féin led the way recently in calling for Russia’s Ambassador to Ireland Yuri Filatov to be expelled, leader Mary Lou McDonald had a softer stance in 2018, when former Russian intelligence officer, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter suffered a nerve agent attack in the UK. The Government expelled a diplomat suspected of links to the incident, and Ms McDonald called the move “a flagrant disregard for Irish neutrality”.
Donnacha Ó Beacháin, professor of politics at DCU, said: “The 1970s and 80s were a lonely place internationally for Sinn Féin and the Soviet Union would have been one of the few more or less on side with them.
“Russia has traditionally positioned itself as a counter-balance to the US and the West and for many on the left, that has some currency. At least it did up until recently.”
In 2014, the EU ratified a momentous Ukraine Association Agreement, putting in place a “deep political association and economic integration between the EU and Ukraine”.
Sinn Féin was against it at the time, with the Dáil later being told it did “little to improve the socio-economic development of the countries involved and nothing to de-escalate recent tensions in the region”.
In 2015, the party’s MEPs voted against a resolution on the murder of the Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov. In 2016, the party refused to sign a Dáil motion condemning Russia’s involvement in the Syrian conflict, which has cost thousands of innocent civilians’ lives. In 2019, Lynn Boylan, now a senator, accused the EU of being “overly confrontational” towards Russia.
In 2020, the EU Parliament voted by a majority to denounce the poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny and called for sanctions against those responsible, as well as concerns over Russian attempts to silence dissenting voices.
Party MEP Chris MacManus abstained, saying while he was “very concerned” over the poisoning of a member of the opposition, he did not support the proposal to “isolate Russia internationally”.
Sinn Féin has changed its policies towards the centre to gain more votes, says Eoin O’Malley, associate professor of politics at DCU. He said it could also be because the atrocities in Ukraine were “out of line”.
The 1970s were a lonely place internationally for Sinn Féin – the Soviet Union would have been one of the few on side with them
In recent months, Sinn Féin MEP Mr MacManus voted against adding the violation of sanctions to a list of serious crimes at EU level, despite the party voting for it in the Dáil. He said it was being “rushed through” the European Parliament.
Mr O’Malley pointed to Mr MacManus’ voting record and said it may lead to some voters moving away.
Then Taoiseach Micheál Martin attacked Sinn Féin’s “pro-Putin stance” in January of last year.
“We have not been soft on Russia, we have not changed our position,” Ms McDonald said last year. “Our position is that the sovereignty of any country must be respected and we in this country know why those matters are important.”
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