Controversy over letter by President’s wife covered by popular Russian website
A controversial letter written to a newspaper by the President’s wife has been picked up by Lifenews.ru, a hugely popular website and TV station with close links to the FSB and Russia’s security forces.
The letter suggested Russia and Ukraine should agree to a ceasefire and negotiations.
LifeNews reported that Mrs Higgins had “indicated that the special operation would continue until the world convinces the presidents of Russia and Ukraine to agree to a ceasefire and negotiations.”
The letter has been criticised by a former senior adviser to Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry.
“What Sabina Higgins said last week was ill-informed and naïve,” Cormac Smith told the Irish Independent.
But Mr Smith said: “Russia invaded a peaceful and democratic country with absolutely no provocation and has since February murdered, tortured and raped thousands of innocent Ukrainians.”
Yesterday, Mr and Mrs Higgins attended the opening of the Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann – but did not address the controversy.
Mr Higgins made a speech opening the event, but did not speak to reporters.
The controversy first arose last week when Mrs Higgins wrote to The Irish Times, to criticise one of the newspaper’s editorials on the conflict.
She said fighting would go on until the world “persuades President Vladimir Putin of Russia and President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine to agree to a ceasefire and negotiations”.
Her comments were also published on the President’s official website before being apparently removed on Friday.
Kateryna Yushchenko, a former First Lady of Ukraine, suggested that Mrs Higgins should not intervene in something she knows little about.
She said on Twitter: “I recommend, Mrs Higgins, not weighing in on something you obviously know nothing about.
“As we in Ukraine will not tell your country what to do in your relations with England and Northern Ireland.”
Ukraine’s ambassador to Ireland Larysa Gerasko said she did not believe the letter was the official position of the President of Ireland.
A spokesman for Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry in Kyiv told the Irish Independent it was monitoring the issue closely, but it was up the ambassador to comment.
Ms Gerasko declined to comment further last night.
The intervention by the President’s wife has been exploited by Russia’s Ambassador to Ireland Yuriy Filatov, who said he agreed with the points made by Mrs Higgins.
There was widespread condemnation from key figures in all the parties involved in the current Coalition.
Fine Gael senator John McGahon said: “The Irish people expect clarity and leadership from their President, not silence.
“The issue now is why did the President allow that to be published as an official statement on his website?”
Fianna Fáil senator Malcolm Byrne said: “Mrs Higgins is entitled to her personal opinion and to express it, although I believe that she is totally wrong to try to see an equivalence in the positions of Ukraine and Russia.
“However, the decision to publish the letter on the president’s website raises serious questions.
“It is incumbent on the President of Ireland to now express clearly the strong support of the people of Ireland for the people of Ukraine and that we hold Russia responsible for the war and ongoing barbarism.”
There has also been support for Mrs Higgins.
People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett tweeted: “The attacks on & censoring of #SabinaHiggins are disgraceful. Every effort should be made to achieve a ceasefire and an end to the slaughter in Ukraine. The idea any side can win a ‘victory’ in this war is a recipe for tens of thousands more deaths.”
A spokesman for President Higgins said there would be no comment on the issue.