Experts hopeful diplomatic communications will stay open with Russia

By Jackson Graham

February 23, 2022

Academics and former officials pin hopes on diplomatic communications remaining open.  (Olga K/Adobe)

As troops move into eastern Ukraine and the UN condemns Russia’s recognition of two separatist regions, academics and former officials have hopes pinned on diplomatic communications remaining open. 

National president of the Australian Institute of International Affairs Allan Gyngell, a former diplomat, said Australia’s strong condemnation of Russia’s actions clearly aligned with Australia’s national and international interests. 

“It’s a breach of the United Nations charter and is to be firmly opposed because of the precedents it sets in other parts of the world,” Gyngell said. 

Gyngell remains optimistic diplomatic relations can remain effective, saying it is important Australian and other western countries remain in open communication with Russian diplomats and vice-versa. 

“At times like this, I don’t think the answer is not to speak to diplomats. It’s to be extremely clear and unambiguous in the exchanges that you have with them,” he said. 

William Stoltz, from ANU’s National Security College, said engagement through the UN remained key to any resolution. 

“It’s important to continue to have conversations, even if they’re not necessarily coming to anything that’s all that substantive or fruitful, at least the channels of communication are open,” Stoltz said. 

“If we do end up seeing a kind of full-scale conventional conflict in Ukraine, I would say that Australia’s contribution is more so going to be for other European countries.”

But former Australian diplomat Tony Kevin, who was posted at the DFAT embassy in Moscow between 1969 and 1971, is highly critical of Australia having any involvement in the tensions. 

“It’s obviously the Australian Government, and opposition view that we should fall into line with the American-led approach. I disagree profoundly with that,” Kevin said, speaking from Saint Petersburg where he was invited to deliver a lecture last week. 

“I would be concentrating our diplomatic focus in our own region. I’d be avoiding entanglements with NATO; that’s not our game.” 

Kevin said the situation has reached the verge of war because Ukraine’s membership in NATO would represent “a life and death situation for Russian national security”. 

“Ukraine is 500 kilometres for Moscow, Ukraine, is a large, large country with many resources. How can Russia allow Ukraine to become a hostile NATO country?” 

Kevin said he felt he and other pro-Russian academic views had been “deplatformed” in Australia. “We are being excluded from the public conversation,” he said. 

Stoltz disagrees Australia is simply following American foreign policy, arguing the federal government’s condemnation of Russia is “independently minded”. 

“As far as I’m aware, there isn’t a massive diplomatic campaign of American pressure on Australia to follow the US in this instance,” Stoltz says. 

“If we believe the values that underpin the international system that every country is sovereign, and that sovereignty needs to be treated equally, and we believe in international disputes being solved in a peaceful way; then we have to call that out whether it’s happening in our immediate neighbourhood or in Europe or anywhere else.

“The perceived threat over what NATO represents to Russia isn’t that NATO is going to invade Russian territories in the same way that Russia is threatening to invade European territories. It’s the constant sense that NATO is there, the EU is there as a system of free markets and democratic countries. And that is a constant counterpoint to Russian society.” 


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