Interview with Liam Bartlett, 6PR
Liam Bartlett: First up this morning. Well, the whole world's talking about it, aren't they? The Ukrainian death toll continues to climb. According to the Ukrainian President it now stands at 137. Clearly it will be a lot worse by the end of the day. That is an inescapable conclusion given the size and scale of Vladimir Putin's military invasion.
The US President Joe Biden has vowed to unite Western allies and hold the Russian President accountable with a second tranche of severe sanctions. And Australia, despite our relatively tiny part to play, is doing its bit to condemn the aggression. The Prime Minister has so far singled out some 33‑odd Russian officials for sanctions, possibly around 300 members of the Russian Parliament. Not that Mr Putin cares. His action continues unabated.
But we're joined this morning by Australia's Foreign Minister Marise Payne, who has been on a lightning trip to Prague to talk to her counterparts there and then more talks with Asian ministers in Laos where we find her this morning. Minister, good morning.
Marise Payne: Good morning, Liam.
Liam Bartlett: Minister, thank you very much for joining us. I know you're absolutely flat out at the moment in many different ways. I understand what we can do is very limited but while Putin's troops are killing people we talk about freezing assets. It's no wonder he's ignoring the West, isn't it?
Marise Payne: Liam, these sanctions are important. They're about ensuring that there is an economic cost to Russia now and ongoing that says there is a cost, there is a penalty for this wholesale breach of international law, this aggressive and completely unlawful invasion of Ukraine. So that's why we're working with our counterparts globally across the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union, it's why the G7 has convened overnight to further extend their coordinated sanctions. And they are vital because the alternative is saying and doing nothing, and that is not acceptable. We must ensure we maximise the cost.
Liam Bartlett: When do we send the Russian Ambassador packing from Canberra? Surely he should be sent back to Moscow now.
Marise Payne: We've called in the Russian Ambassador. He has met with the Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and she has conveyed Australia's strong views about Russia's unprovoked and unacceptable aggression against Ukraine.
We do have to be able to engage with Russia in terms of communicating those messages, but it is always open to us to expel diplomats in certain circumstances and that is an option we will retain.
Liam Bartlett: So have you thought about it, is it on the table?
Marise Payne: It's always open to us, of course. And it is a matter that I have discussed with counterparts in terms of their approaches. I was in Prague speaking with counterparts in Europe this week. I know they called in the Russian Ambassador there as well.
But we do have to be in a position where we can communicate with states and that includes through their diplomatic representatives. But we will make a judgment during these discussions as to whether we need to take those diplomatic steps.
Liam Bartlett: Minister, the Ukrainian President has ordered full military mobilisation. We know it has also asked the UK for lethal aid. Have they asked us for lethal aid?
Marise Payne: They have not, and that would not be something that Australia would be part of. That is not a request though that has been made of us. We have been providing cyber support because we know, of course, that Russia is a very sophisticated cyber actor. In the last week alone when I was in Europe they continued their attacks on Ukrainian systems, both their defence system and for example their banking and financial institutions. So that cyber support we have been providing. We have been talking with them.
I met with the Foreign Minister in Munich this week about other assistance we may be able to provide, and we will do that if we are able to, through partners most likely given the difficulty and the distance, frankly, of our availability to deliver such product. But the humanitarian aspect, Liam, is also one of great concern for Australia. We are finalising a potential humanitarian package to assist in this context. When I was in Warsaw I spoke with the Polish Foreign Minister and Secretary of State who works with the President, particularly about the challenge they are likely to face with the significant movement of people out of Ukraine. This is a challenge the international community will need to meet and to support.
Liam Bartlett: And that's important, as you say, but it's also galling, isn't it? We mop up, we help mop up meantime Putin just does what he wants.
Marise Payne: It is worse than galling, it is appalling. As I said, it is a wholesale breach of international law. There is no justification whatsoever for these actions which are both illegal and unjustified and unprovoked.
Liam Bartlett: Minister, are you disappointed that China has not joined other countries in condemning this invasion?
Marise Payne: I've seen a number of reports. I know that China has raised its concerns in relation to the Olympic truce. But I've also seen reports that suggest there may be a view from China that Russia has legitimate security concerns.
That's not a statement that we can understand or accept because there simply are no reasonable concerns that justify Russia's actions. This is a false pre‑text which President Putin and the Russian system has formed on which to invade, and as UN Security Council permanent members we would suggest that all permanent members of the UN Security Council, acknowledging Russia's own position, should be making their views very clear on this matter.
Liam Bartlett: Yes, exactly. So why would President Xi and his counterparts agree to a false pre‑text?
Marise Payne: Well, ultimately that is a matter for them but clearly any suggestion that Russia has a security basis upon which to take this action is nothing but propaganda and disinformation. Russia is solely to blame for this action.
Liam Bartlett: Do you think China are watching this carefully to weigh up what may be a similar response from the West if they tried to enforce their claims over Taiwan?
Marise Payne: Well I'm not sure that I'm going to speculate on that but what we are very clear about is the position that we have set out very clearly and utterly condemned Russia's actions. Ultimately other countries' perspectives will be a matter for them.
But what is really important now, Liam, is the unity that has been brought between leading members of the international community, particularly through the United States, the United Kingdom, the EU, the actions of the G7, which of course includes Japan, and other groupings where those countries and like‑mindeds have come together with very, very coordinated and unified voice to condemn Russia's actions, and importantly to address these very strong sanctions, both the UK, the US overnight, more significant announcements in relation to sanctions, and Australia of course has made our own announcements.
Liam Bartlett: You're in Laos at the moment, what sort of feel do you get from the Asian officials, from Asian governments? Is there any sort of atmosphere there in terms of worry and concern, whether it be Russia or China in terms of domino effect?
Marise Payne: I think there is a broad international concern, including from countries far from Ukraine that actions such as this undermine global security and global stability. They undermine the rules‑based global order which has served us so well for so many decades. For many countries who are watching from afar that is certainly a concern that I know that they will have. It is not possible to excuse in any way, shape or form, in any legitimate way, shape or form these actions of Russia. As I said, they are a wholesale breach of international law. Of course around the world we have - particularly Ukrainian communities, Ukrainian diasporas, including in Australia, and certainly our thoughts go out to those who have family and loved ones in Ukraine about whom they are of course deeply concerned.
Liam Bartlett: Minister, I know it's hard for you to speculate about things like this in your position and at this point in time, but just finally, because I note this is a sort of overarching question, I think a lot of people are asking today what is the end game here? You know, Putin occupies Ukraine, the locals are forced to surrender, and what, that's it? The autocratic despot beats the West without anyone lifting a finger, aside from hitting the odd keystroke on a computer.
Marise Payne: You may describe it like that, Liam, but I do think it is important that we bring the strongest economic sanctions to bear that will ultimately have a significant impact on the Russian economy. That is an important cost given the very serious nature of this act of aggression. And everything that we are doing and doing with our partners is designed to ensure that this does not escalate. We will support and continue to support actions such as those and to support Ukraine in their responses. The international community I think is unified, as I said, overwhelmingly unified on doing that. This is certainly a deeply concerning step and we need to continue to impose costs so that Russia does not continue to escalate.
Liam Bartlett: But his economy is a bit like ours really, isn't it, it's a commodity‑based economy and commodity prices are going through the roof because of this conflict, so he's actually benefitting from it economically. I mean when do the sort of sanctions that you're ‑‑
Marise Payne: Well, Liam, you would have to be able to sell those ‑ you have to be able to sell those commodities.
Liam Bartlett: Yes.
Marise Payne: And the whole process of sanctions, including in relation to those aspects of the Russian economy, is about restricting that ability to engage in the international economic environment and ensuring that the cost for these actions is as high as possible.
Liam Bartlett: So when would the sanctions ‑ the sanctions that you've been talking about and, you know, the Prime Minister's been talking about and all the other Western leaders, when do they start to kick in? When would Russia start to feel the pain on those realistically?
Marise Payne: Well each country's sanctions are different but, for example, what the G7 agreed to overnight was to place limits on Russia's access to US dollars, to euros, to pounds and to yen. To freeze Russian assets in the US immediately. To cut off four more Russian banks and access to financial technology. So those sorts of steps are in place now.
All of the sanctions have different periods of implementation because there are legal requirements for how they are imposed. But if, for example, you look at the banks on which we have imposed financial sanctions, they will not be able to do business with or through ‑ Australians will not be able to do business with or through those banks. We will prohibit exports and commercial activities by Australians in the transport, energy, telecoms, oil, gas and minerals sector in Donetsk and Luhansk, the two states that Russia extended their approach to. Prohibiting all imports to Australia. This is rolling through economies around the world. As I said, G7, the EU, the UK, the US, Canada imposing sanctions. These are steps which the global community is very serious about and very unified on.
Liam Bartlett: All right, Minister, we'll have to leave it there, but I know you're leaving today to come back to Australia so have a safe flight back to Canberra. Thank you very much for talking to us this morning.
Marise Payne: Thank you very much, Liam.
Liam Bartlett: Australia's Foreign Minister Marise Payne.