I am very glad the Minister of State, Deputy Deenihan, is here to take this issue. I was appalled to learn of the brutal murder of Boris Nemtsov last weekend, as were the overwhelming majority of the Irish people. Mr. Nemtsov was a prominent opposition politician in Russia and his RPR Parnas political party is a member of ALDE, the same political grouping to which Fianna Fáil is affiliated at a European level.
Over the course of his life, Mr. Nemtsov worked to speak up for the most marginalised in Russian society. He was a committed democrat who fought to strengthen the political institutions in Russia and he highlighted the scourge of corruption at every opportunity. In recent months, he had also been an outspoken critic of the conflict in Ukraine, which has claimed so many innocent lives. The murder of Boris Nemtsov must also act as a warning sign to all people who believe in liberal democracy in Europe and in Russia. It is evidence that all is not well with the political system in Moscow.
The increasing Russian aggression towards its neighbours and internally towards political opponents is a most frightening development. From what we see and listen to through the media reports, there appears to be an increasing culture of fear in Russia. State authorities are said to act in an exceptionally partisan way in how law and order are maintained and in how laws are implemented. It seems the regime in Moscow is exhibiting increasingly fascist-like tendencies, where state and party merge into one and where some opponents are even forced to leave the country.
We are all aware of the desperate carnage with the loss of life of so many innocent people and we think of one particular incident alone, the shooting down of the civilian aircraft MH19, resulting in the death of 298 innocent people. I mention that in the context of the current Russian foreign policy that has resulted in war in Ukraine with untold devastation and the undermining of that country’s sovereignty. As a Parliament, we should be very conscious of the sovereignty of other nations.
The West has responded with sanctions which have had an impact but which have not provided a long-term solution. Even Ireland, a country which has traditionally had a distinctly cordial relationship with Russia, has been touched by this aggression through the infringement of Irish-controlled airspace by Russian military aircraft. This, we have learned, resulted in commercial traffic having to be diverted or suspended when travelling to and from Irish airports. The Minister of State and the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, need to take up this issue directly with their counterparts in the Russian Government. I know from Question Time last week that the Minister had instructed senior officials in his Department to meet the Russian ambassador and senior officials in the Russian embassy. However, at this stage, with another recorded infringement of Irish-controlled airspace, it is time for the Minister and the Minister of State to raise this matter directly with the Russian authorities and to state very clearly that any infringement of Irish-controlled airspace is not acceptable.
As a society, we need better relations with Russia on a political, social and economic basis, which would be to the benefit of both countries and the European Union. There is great potential to grow trade for the benefit of Ireland, the European Union and Russia. However, there is one thing from which the European Union and this country cannot flinch, that is, being strong advocates of the need for democratic reforms in Russia and, as the late Mr. Nemtsov was, being active as a strong advocate for a more open and tolerant Russia. What we have seen in recent times is not acceptable. The Government, at head of Government and ministerial level, must convey in the strongest possible manner to the Russian authorities that what has been happening is not acceptable. There must be no stone left unturned to bring to justice those who carried out the hideous murder of an excellent man who was doing important political work in difficult circumstances.
The most important lesson we can learn from the brutal killing of Mr. Nemtsov is that we can no longer ignore what is happening in Russia. We can no longer say it has no impact on us. We can no longer turn a blind eye when another political opponent of the current regime is silenced or when more innocent victims are killed in Ukraine or elsewhere. We have seen recent reports on concerns in some of the other Baltic countries, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Norway has also expressed concerns about Russian aggression. The Government and our partners in the European Union must say loud and clear that this is not acceptable and that if Russia continues these actions, we will not tolerate them. That message must be sent clearly to President Putin and his government. We cannot pretend that the Russian Government and President are our allies. Carrying out actions that have the characteristics of enemy actions makes a state an enemy. A change in policy by President Putin and his government is needed to build better relations with the European Union and the rest of the world. What happened last weekend was an appalling attack on an innocent man which resulted in the loss of life. It was also an attack on democracy.