PM slams Putin’s ‘feeble pretext’ to attack Ukraine, escalating spat with embassy

By Melissa Coade

February 25, 2022

Scott Morrison
Scott Morrison is among Australians sanctioned by Vladimir Putin. (AAP Image/Bianca De Marchi)

Scott Morrison has called out the ‘disinformation and propaganda’ of Russian president Vladimir Putin, saying it has convinced no one, as explosions and military clashes are reported across Ukraine.

Russian troops began attacking Ukraine on Thursday, as Putin made a state-televised announcement he had signed off on a ‘special military operation’

Speaking to reporters, Australian prime minister Scott Morrison said Putin’s move came after months of aggression and intimidation.

“I’ll call it what it is. The Russian government launched a brutal invasion, unprovoked, on Ukraine and should be condemned for doing so, and Australia does,” Morrison said. 

“The footage that is emerging of missile strikes, air raid sirens and reports of hundreds of casualties, yet unconfirmed, are sadly not surprising given the events we have been witnessing for some time now and have been warning about.”

The Pentagon’s first assessment of Russian military troops into Ukraine paints a grim picture. Russian special forces and airborne troops were closing in on the capital city of Kyiv before sunset and the UN refugee agency estimates thousands of Ukrainian civilians have fled from their homes in cities.

North of Kyiv, Russian troops have seized the defunct Chernobyl nuclear plant (which exploded in 1986 causing the world’s worst nuclear accident). Senior US officials say Russian troops are poised to invade the capital.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy declared martial law yesterday, appealing to fellow citizens to take up arms

“If we’ll be attacked by the [enemy] troops, if they try to take our country away from us, our freedom, our lives, the lives of our children, we will defend ourselves. Not attack, but defend ourselves. And when you will be attacking us, you will see our faces, not our backs, but our faces,” Zelenskyy said in a powerful address yesterday.

On Friday the United Nations Security Council will vote on a resolution condemning Putin’s military action in Ukraine. A senior US official told The New York Times the resolution, written by the US, will call for immediate and unconditional withdrawal of Russia’s troops.

Russia will be subject to binding obligations under the resolution according to Chapter VII of the UN charter, which provides a framework for action when world security is under threat to ‘maintain or restore international peace and security’. 

US president Joe Biden has ordered an additional 7,000 US troops to Germany to assure NATO allies, effectively doubling the number of American soldiers who have been sent to Europe since the Ukraine crisis began. The US has also sent six F-35 fighter jets and a number of other warplanes to help eastern Europe, with approximately 800 defence infantry personnel now stationed in the Baltics. 

“Putin’s actions betray a sinister vision for the future of our world, one where nations take what they want by force,” Biden said.

The White House contends US troops will not engage in a direct conflict in Ukraine.

Biden announced more harsh sanctions against Russia and affiliates in Belarus on Friday that will put export blocks on technology, and with the goal of hindering Putin’s ability to advance Russia’s military and aerospace sector.

“The threat of the sanctions … imposing the sanctions and seeing the effect of the sanctions are two different things,” Biden said. 

“He’s going to begin to see the effect of the sanctions,” he said of Putin.

Australia’s first tranche of sanctions announcements were made on Wednesday, with more sanctions to be announced as the situation unfolds with Russia’s illegal attack on Ukraine.

“We’ve got plenty left in the tank when it comes to further actions we would take if and when the violence is escalated by Russia,” the ABC reported Morrison as saying.

Morrison confirmed there were no plans to expel Russia’s ambassador to Australia, Alexey Pavlovsky, from Canberra. It was the convention to keep formal communications with Pavlovsky directly with DFAT secretary and Army Reservist Kathryn Campbell, he said, with the assurance that ‘very stern messages’ have been conveyed to Russia. 

“Even in moments of terrible conflicts such as this, it is important to maintain channels of communication,” Morrison said.

“They’re in no doubt about our views about what the Russian government is doing illegally in Ukraine and inflicting terrible crimes on the people of Ukraine,” he added. 

Russia’s embassy in Australia has labelled Morrison’s sanctions announcement as ‘xenophobic and said Australia had only acted to support the actions of ‘xenophobic bullies’ – referring to NATO allies and the US.

“Recognising the Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics was the only solution Russia felt compelled to take.

“This decision by Russia will not be reverted,” the embassy said. 

In a joint statement on Friday morning, the PM and Australia’s foreign minister, Marise Payne, said Russia must reverse its breach of international law and of the UN Charter and withdraw its military from Ukraine. Payne and Morrison said Russia would pay the ‘high price’ that was warranted for the invasion.

“We reiterate our staunch support for Ukraine’s independence and territorial integrity – the bedrock principles of a rules-based world order. 

“Russia’s actions are of deep concern to Australians – especially those who have family and loved ones there,” the statement read. 

The Australian government has announced more financial sanctions on another 25 persons and four Russians it says have been responsible for the ‘unprovoked and unacceptable aggression’ in Ukraine. 

“We will put restrictions on Australians investing in a further four financial institutions. We will be working with like-minded countries on further consequences for Russia,” the statement said.


Government’s response to Ukraine crisis can’t be vote-chasing rhetoric

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