Will news of Rusal recruiting mercenaries for Putin put an end to Varadker and Martin’s unwavering support for Rusal’s operations on the Shannon estuary?

A report published yesterday by Ukraine Pravda says Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska’s company, Rusal, is recruiting so-called volunteer soldiers, who almost immediately sign a contract with the Russian Ministry of Defence and go to war against Ukraine.(1)

Deripaska set up Rusal in 2000 and now has a 44.95% stake in the company which is part of his En+ Group that produces almost 6% of the world’s aluminium.

The Aughinish Alumina plant, the largest aluminium refinery in Europe located near Askeaton on the Shannon estuary is owned by the Russian company Rusal and its majority shareholder EN+.

The Ukraine Pravda report must be taken with a grain of salt given that news coming out of Ukraine is state censored since last December when Zelensky was criticised by journalists globally for a law passed by his government that gives it regulatory control over the news media.

Ukraine Pravda, an online newspaper founded in 2000 is one of the country’s largest news outlets published mainly in Ukrainian with selected articles published in or translated to Russian and English.

It reports in english that the mercenaries recruited by Rusal are sent to the Sokol volunteer battalion, which is part of the Russian army. If this is in fact the case it marks a U turn for Deripaska who has been an outspoken critic of the war.

On 27 February 2022, the third day of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Deripaska posted on Telegram: “Peace is very important! Negotiations need to start as soon as possible!”

Nevertheless, Deripaska was one of seven oligarchs sanctioned by the British government over the invasion. Deripaska was known for his close ties with Russian president Vladimir Putin and was believed to be part of his inner circle of advisers. On 8 April 2022, the EU added Deripaska to its sanctions list, freezing his assets and imposing a travel ban in all member states.

In June 2022 the Moscow Times reported that Deripaska told a press conference in Moscow that it would be a “colossal mistake” for Russia to destroy Ukraine with its military offensive.

The report says he repeated the term “colossal mistake” several times and termed as “war” Moscow’s offensive in Ukraine, a word that is effectively banned in Russia to describe the invasion of Ukraine.

The fact that Deripaska didn’t flee Russia or was imprisoned like other opponents of the war is perhaps indicative of his close ties to Putin.

Speaking to reporters in Limerick in March 2022, then Taoiseach, Micheál Martin said Aughinish Alumina was not included in sanctions. “They have not been included in the sanctions regime on the basis of their strategic importance to Europe and that should be an important reassurance to them.”

Mr Martin also rejected a private call from the Ukrainian ambassador to Ireland to shut down the facility, made at the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party meeting the previous week by Ukrainian ambassador Larysa Gerasko.

A statement from the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment that week said both Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe, as well as government agencies, had been involved in discussions around the plant.

“There has been ongoing engagement between the Government, IDA Ireland and the company, including a meeting with the Tánaiste and Minister Donohoe earlier this week,” it said: 

The company is a very important supplier of alumina to Europe and an important element of the global alumina supply chain. It is also a significant employer in Limerick. The Government is keen that the plant will continue to operate. 

“The Department and its Agencies continue to assess the implications of recent developments and are closely monitoring the situation.”

Leo Varadkar, then Tánaiste and Enterprise Minister held discussions with the European Commission and his French and Swedish counterparts in April 2022 in a bid to keep Aughinish free from sanctions.

In June 2022 Varadker defended his meeting with Greg Barker, a UK Conservative life peer, who was formerly head of a company controlled by the Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska.

Varadkar and Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe held a meeting with Greg Barker at government buildings on March 21st, just under a month after the war broke out.

Barker is a former chairman of aluminium firm EN+, which is controlled by Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska.

EN+ is also the majority shareholder of Russian aluminium giant, Rusal, which owns Aughinish Alumina.

The Business Post reported last October that the IDA gave Aughinish €2.1 million in 2022 for work that “goes beyond union standards for environmental protection”. The money is expected to be spent to deal with the 35 million tonnes of toxic red mud waste stored in ponds on the banks of the Shannon.

Last February Ukraine’s Justice Ministry said in a website statement that more than 300 assets linked to Deripaska and Rusal had been transferred to the state including a large alumina plant.

The ministry accused Deripaska of being close to Russian president Vladimir Putin and having “a significant share” of Rusal and parent company En+ Group. 

“The Justice Ministry of Ukraine won’t stop there, but will continue to implement the sanction by confiscating assets of sanctioned people,” deputy justice minister Iryna Mudra said in the statement. 

“We are doing everything so that the assets of people who support Russia’s aggression will benefit Ukraine’s economy and armed forces as soon as possible,” she said.  

In May, Futureproof Clare won its legal challenge to the expansion of the Aughinish Alumina refinery in Askeaton.

News coming out of Ukraine that Rusal are recruiting mercenaries for Putin is music to the ears of people who have been campaigning for decades to have Aughinish Alumina shut, because it poses such a dangerous threat to not only the Shannon estuary but to the entire western seaboard if the retaining embankments give way and release millions of tonnes of toxic waste into the Shannon.

If the news is true it’s going to be increasingly difficult for Leo Varadker and Micheál Martin to defend its support for Rusal’s operations in Ireland given their unrelenting, unconditional support for Zelensky and their unwavering condemnation of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine

(1) https://www.pravda.com.ua/eng/news/2023/08/1/7413701/