Patricia Karvelas: Australians still in Ukraine are urged to leave without delay after Russian troops arrived in the breakaway regions of Donetsk and Luhansk. US President Joe Biden has a message to the world this morning: Vladimir Putin has paved the way for a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
Joe Biden: It sets up a justification for taking more territory by force in my opinion. This is the start of a Russian invasion of Ukraine. President Putin has asked the Russian parliament for permission to use military force outside Russian territory. And that has opened the door to yet another pretext for further provocations by Russia to try to justify further military action. None of us – none of us – should be fooled. None of us will be fooled.
Patricia Karvelas: US President Joe Biden spoke a short time ago. Australia is currently working with other countries on a series of economic sanctions against Russia which Foreign Minister Marise Payne says will be swift and severe. I spoke with Foreign Secretary Marise Payne earlier from Prague.
Marise Payne: Hello, Patricia.
Patricia Karvelas: How many Australians are still in Ukraine, and how long do they have to get out?
Marise Payne: Patricia, we have been very, very clear that all Australians should leave Ukraine immediately. We have been saying this for several weeks. In fact, we also ordered our officials to temporarily leave Ukraine given the security situation. It’s hard to say exactly how many, as we are able to deal with those who are registered in Australia, and that number is slightly over 100. But there have been larger family groups, as I think you have already mentioned. We have deployed Australian officials to eastern Poland and Romania to assist Australians who may also seek to leave Ukraine.
Patricia Karvelas: The Australian Embassy is now closed. All diplomatic personnel have gone to Poland or Romania. Does this mean Australians still in Ukraine are alone? They will have to find their own way?
Marise Payne: Well, as I said, we have been explicitly clear that those who wish to leave – indeed all Australians in Ukraine – must leave for their own safety. But we still have our consular emergency center available 24 hours a day. We have these Australian officials in eastern Poland and in Romania. And they are officials separate from our diplomatic staff in Kiev itself. These are officials that we have deployed specifically to support these consular issues. Diplomatic personnel from Kyiv who had moved to Lviv had to travel to Poland for some time. And I want to thank the Polish government very much for the support they have given to those of us who needed it. But we will continue to provide as much support as possible to Australians. But, of course, we are limited in the circumstances, and we have been very clear about this.
Patricia Karvelas: The Russian parliament has met to approve a request by Vladimir Putin to deploy Russian troops abroad. The NATO secretary general said there was no longer any doubt that Moscow was planning a full-scale attack on Ukraine. Is this your assessment? There’s no way to stop a global invasion anymore?
Marise Payne: I don’t agree that there is no way to stop a global invasion because Russia always has – always has – the option not to continue. And that’s what we’re asking for. That’s what like-minded people are crying out for. I met the Secretary General of NATO this week in Munich and we discussed these issues. So it remains an option.
But we see a military build-up going on, that’s right. And we are witnessing a series of activities, including President Putin’s totally unacceptable decision to declare the Donetsk and Lugansk regions in eastern Ukraine to be independent states. None of these things contribute in any way to security or stability. And with our partners, we identify the options available to us to solve this problem. But we strongly condemned them.
Patricia Karvelas: Well, I just want to go to those options. You are working with other countries on coordinated economic sanctions. But we have a very small business relationship with Russia and we are not a haven for Russian money. So what do you have in mind? Is it the travel ban, asset freeze? How can we hit them where it hurts?
Marise Payne: I understand that the question is important given the different actions that countries have in relation to Russia. And each country is also in a different position when it comes to sanctions. We are therefore looking at what is available to us specifically with regard to Donetsk and Lugansk. I see the executive order that President Biden signed on February 21. It is an approach whose implications for our system we are determining. The UK, of course, has also made announcements, and we will work with them on what sanctions package we may be able to implement.
I understand, however, that it is important to remind Australians that we have sanctions in place and they have been imposed since 2014. And we will use all the tools at our disposal to the maximum to ensure that we apply the sanctions jointly with our counterparts. This is something senior Australian government officials are currently discussing among colleagues.
Patricia Karvelas: Can you give us examples for our listeners who just want to get an idea of the magnitude of these penalties?
Marise Payne: So I don’t think it’s appropriate to advance the sanctions options because what you’re doing if you advance the sanctions options is you’re giving those you intend to sanction a chance to make their own decisions – move assets or whatever else be. But we have worked with counterparts in my Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, with partners around the world, particularly, as I said, the United States, the United Kingdom. I discussed this with EU colleagues all day today in France and this weekend in –
Patricia Karvelas: And is it fair that an announcement about it is imminent? Is this something that will happen today, will we hear more details about it?
Marise Payne: We will make announcements as soon as possible.
Patricia Karvelas: If the sanctions have no effect on Moscow, what will be the next step? How will you step up the action against Russia?
Marise Payne: I don’t think it’s necessarily useful to speculate on what will happen if the sanctions, as you say, are ineffective. We need to take the steps we have, enforce those sanctions, work with our partners to maximize the effect of those sanctions, and continue, frankly, the advocacy that has taken place in a diplomatic sense. I can understand that this is something that doesn’t seem to have had the outcome that we would have liked. But what we’ve seen, frankly, is disinformation from Russia, disinformation from Russia, and we need to be very clear that there will be a clear impact and sanctions for Russia if She keeps.
Patricia Karvelas: And the Russian ambassador in Canberra? Will he be expelled or at least arrested for a denigration?
Marise Payne: Well, treating diplomats that way, whether it’s expulsions or recalls, is always an option. However, our current focus is on targeted sanctions that will impact those responsible. So while there are other options and other tools, if you will, in the toolbox, like how we deal with diplomats, that’s something I’ll get to when timely.
Patricia Karvelas: Minister Payne, Europe is on the brink of a major war. If Vladimir Putin succeeds in Ukraine, which country could be next? Tony Abbott, former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, is he right when he says that a new iron curtain will soon fall over Europe if we don’t do more to defend Ukraine?
Marise Payne: Well, again, I don’t really think it’s useful to speculate that way because the territorial integrity, the sovereignty of the countries in this region is obviously an absolute – of the absolute primary goal of so many nations with which I’ve met in recent days. We must be absolutely clear that such behavior comes at a cost to Russia – that is, severe sanctions that will target key Russian individuals and entities responsible for these actions.
And we have to make sure that we stand with our counterparts across Europe, whether it’s the countries I’ve met over the past few days, many of whom understand the vulnerability in particular that Ukraine is confronted, and see themselves the reinforcement of troops along the borders with Russia, see what is happening in Belarus and are deeply concerned. We share these concerns and are united by many partners in Europe, as I said, in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, other governments around the world in support of their sovereignty and territorial integrity .
Patricia Karvelas: And, Minister, is Australia now considering supplying additional liquefied natural gas to Europe given what we are seeing unfolding at the Ukrainian border?
Marise Payne: Well, we will – we have obviously seen tensions in Europe adding to global price pressure. And we will work with partners to see what is needed in this regard. It is clear that we need to secure our own local gas supply and continue to do so, but these are issues that will be discussed among colleagues and international partners in the weeks to come. They have certainly been discussed at my meetings in Europe this week.
Patricia Karvelas: Given all the uncertainty in Eastern Europe and the possible consequences for our own region, isn’t it time now to drop the hyper-partisan attacks on Labor over national security? Doesn’t the times demand the kind of national unity that we usually only see in times of war?
Marise Payne: Well, I think in my public statements I’ve indicated that bipartisanship is better in national security, in foreign affairs, as you say. But it is not an end in itself. This does not negate the need for a debate. And from the government’s perspective, we can and should criticize opposition positions if we believe they fail the test or meet the levels of consistency and delivery that we have focused on.
Our absolute objective is national security, the national interests of Australia. We have witnessed attacks on the government on a range of issues, including, for example, our relationship with China. But ultimately, I’m working to ensure that Australia’s position is clear on Russia’s actions in Ukraine and that we provide the strongest possible support to our partners and counterparts in that region. .
Patricia Karvelas: Minister, thank you very much for your time.
Marise Payne: Thank you Patricia.
Patricia Karvelas: Foreign Secretary Marise Payne there.