I welcome this opportunity to speak about the crisis in Ukraine. This is not a recent crisis. It began last November as hundreds and thousands of peaceful demonstrators took to the streets to protest against the decision of the authorities not to sign the association agreement with the European Union. I met with many of the demonstrators myself when I visited Ukraine and Kiev for the OSCE ministerial meeting in December 2013. The development of the crisis since then has been extensively reported and we have all watched with increasing concern as the demonstrations were met with repressive and ultimately lethal force. Then, following the departure of former President Yanukovich, we witnessed the seizure by Russian forces of a part of Ukrainian territory, the installation of a compliant local regime, the orchestration of an invalid referendum under a heavy military presence and the annexation of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol to the Russian Federation.
The events in eastern Ukraine in recent days are a matter of grave concern. The actions of masked and armed individuals seizing buildings in several cities there clearly represent a highly organised and co-ordinated attempt to destabilise the country and to undermine the Government in Kiev in advance of the presidential election scheduled for 25 May. A constant area of focus by the European Union has been the need for an inclusive, fair and lawful election to take place by the end of May. The election is clearly of huge importance to the communities in Ukraine and the people of Ukraine who seek orderly, fair and efficient government. The period in the run-up to the presidential election is of great importance. What we have seen happen is that the Ukrainian Government and the authorities have demonstrated very great restraint in the face of huge challenges and pressures within the country and in the face of huge provocation from elsewhere.
In my address to Dáil Éireann on the issue two weeks ago, and following statements on this and other related matters in the Seanad, I set out the reasons such developments should be of concern to Ireland and why we must take a strong view on the issue. The main reason is because as a small country we depend very heavily on the respect others hold for international law and the ability of international law to create an atmosphere in which all countries - small and big - can protect their interests in a peaceful and lawful manner. There are clear procedures in place in international law on handling issues such as the location of borders and important questions on how communities and countries should govern themselves. Due to our own history and the many challenges we have faced in the past and currently, we understand the importance of international law. We understand the importance of being able to deal with neighbours and other countries in an atmosphere of respect and where law is respected. What we have seen happen in the developments I have outlined is that the body of international law has been completely flouted by the Russian Federation in the actions it has taken in Crimea and in the pressures and decisions that have been made in Crimea in recent months.
Throughout every phase in this crisis we have worked closely with our partners in the European Union. The European Union has been strong, consistent and clear during that period. The approach has been united in making clear that what happened in Ukraine is completely unacceptable and that it will have consequences for our relations with Russia.
From the outset, the EU has played an active role in trying to facilitate a resolution to the crisis in Ukraine. In addition to its scheduled meetings, the EU Foreign Affairs Council has met twice and the EU Heads of State and Government have discussed Ukraine in extraordinary session as well as during the regular meetings of the European Council.
Senators are as aware as I am that at this time in Europe 100 years ago a regional crisis spilled over into events that had consequences for an entire continent. Senators are aware of the role of momentum, incident and accident in leading Europe to a point 100 years ago where we faced consequences and events that were absolutely catastrophic and that resulted in the loss of life of so many people. As part of my work as Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs I recently visited Sarajevo in Bosnia Herzegovina and I saw the bridge at which the event took place that triggered so many events that had such a devastating effect on Europe. That is why the European Union in its response to date to what has happened has been very careful to put in place a framework of response. It has had three different stages and the leaders of the European Union at each stage have said what they want to achieve is a peaceful resolution to a very complicated crisis that has now been overlaid with the flouting and breaking of international law. In response to what has happened we have said that measures will be put in place, and have been put in place, to deal with individuals and if events were to further destabilise the situation other measures would then be considered. That is why, following the holding of the referendum in Crimea the Foreign Affairs Council on 17 March implemented the second phase of measures involving the imposition of travel restrictions against 21 Russian and Ukrainian officials. The European Council, later that same week, added a further 12 names to the list. If events were to destabilise further, other measures would be considered and the European Commission was tasked with developing what those options could be.
The Tánaiste has strongly condemned the recent developments in eastern Ukraine. On Monday of this week, he participated in the Foreign Affairs Council in Luxembourg, where there was a detailed discussion of the crisis in Ukraine. Ministers decided to expand the list of those to whom visa bans and asset freezes will apply. Preparatory work continues on so-called phase 3 measures. The Council also adopted a decision on macro-financial assistance for Ukraine, which brings the total amount of funding being made available by the EU to €1.6 billion. The support is part of a broader package over the next two years of €27 billion.
Ireland and the EU have consistently stressed the importance of maintaining open channels of communication with the Russian Federation. We welcome, therefore, the quartet talks involving Russia, the US, Ukraine and the EU which are to take place in Geneva today. The EU will continue its engagement in international facilitation initiatives involving the UN, the OSCE and others. Ireland is participating fully in these efforts. We sent an officer to the initial interim OSCE mission and will be sending an officer to join the Polish-led second interim OSCE mission.
Ireland has made it consistently clear that external pressure on Ukraine is unacceptable. In March, the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade personally expressed Ireland's condemnation of Russia's actions in Crimea to the Russian ambassador to Ireland and requested him to convey Ireland's deep concern to his Government. Earlier this month, I moved a cross-party Dáil motion condemning the annexation of Crimea and Sevastopol to the Russian Federation and pledging solidarity with and support for Ukraine. Also, the Foreign Affairs Council yesterday expressed strong support for the holding of free and fair presidential elections on 25 May. Ireland is sending a team of observers to Ukraine to help achieve that objective, one which will allow the Ukrainian people to determine their own future and help build trust across the country. Instability does not respect national frontiers. It is in the interest of the entire region that a sovereign, prosperous, stable, democratic and inclusive Ukraine emerges from the current crisis. Ireland, together with its EU partners, will spare no effort in trying to bring this about.