DFAT officials questioned on ‘passive’ aid offered to Ukraine


Australian diplomats say they are cautiously optimistic following reports that Russia is withdrawing some troops from the Ukrainian border.

But Foreign Secretary Marise Payne has emphatically rejected accusations that Australia acted passively amid the current crisis.

President Vladimir Putin said overnight that Russia was returning tanks, armored vehicles and troops to the base as border negotiations continued.

While the Australian government says it has received an initial assessment of its man on the ground in Moscow, a Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokeswoman said it still needs to verify the information.

“We received a report from our embassy in Moscow,” Deputy Secretary Katrina Cooper said.

“It is an encouraging sign that we are hearing these reports. Of course, they are from Russia, so as the minister said, we have to dig into that a little bit and do an assessment.

Ms Cooper told a hearing on Thursday on Senate estimates that Russia still has 150,000 troops massed on the border and in the Crimean region.

However, officials are still hopeful that a diplomatic exit is possible.

Earlier, US President Joe Biden warned that an invasion remained entirely possible, but that his nation and its allies would give diplomacy and de-escalation “every chance to succeed”.

Meanwhile, Foreign Secretary Marise Payne has hit back at accusations that Australia acted ‘passively’ after estimates were told the government had yet to offer further aid to the Ukraine in terms of cybersecurity since the beginning of the crisis.

Camera iconForeign Secretary Marise Payne denied that Australia acted passively. NCA NewsWire/Gary Ramage Credit: News Corp Australia

She said she discussed the matter with her Ukrainian counterpart on January 19 and it was a live chat.

“We had commitments … to discuss additional IT support, but ultimately identify what would be useful and valuable to the Ukrainian government,” Senator Payne said.

“This is a very difficult time for the Ukrainian government on several fronts.

“That’s why the United States in particular has been in a coordinating role, so it’s in no way about passivity or anything, it’s about working with a partner to determine which might come in handy at a critical moment.

Labor’s Kristina Keneally insisted, asking why Scott Morrison hadn’t called Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

“We have seen the Pentagon warn of an impending attack by Russian forces. I understand that there have been many government statements supporting Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, but to date we have yet to provide any new direct assistance,” Senator Keneally said.

“We haven’t even had a phone call from the prime minister to the president.

“No one is suggesting that our actions are essential, but it seems that many of these fine words … have not been backed up by real action. There is a level of passivity,” Senator Keneally said.

“I totally disagree…that’s absolutely not the case,” Sen. Payne replied.

She added that the government would join international sanctions if Russia eventually invaded.

A total of 186 Australian citizens, permanent residents and family members are registered with DFAT as remaining in Ukraine.

Deputy Secretary Craig Maclachlan said officials were pleased a “large number” of Australians had left the Eastern European nation.

Mr Morrison ordered the evacuation of the Australian embassy in Kyiv on Sunday, moving officials to a temporary office in Lviv.


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