Interview with Neil Mitchell, 3AW
Neil Mitchell: We've talked about the impact of what's happening in Ukraine in Australia. This is the beginning. On the line is the Foreign Minister Marise Payne, who's in Laos in South East Asia. Minister, good morning to you.
Marise Payne: Good morning, Neil.
Neil Mitchell: Is your expectation that the Russians will attempt to take control of Kyiv?
Marise Payne: Neil, I think it is difficult to speculate given how highly fluid the situation is. But clearly this is a very significant and highly coordinated series of attacks on Ukraine across multiple locations and multiple key points of cities and infrastructure. It is deeply concerning, and we've heard obviously a great deal of reporting and feedback from on the ground in Ukraine. But to be absolutely clear, Australia has completely and utterly condemned the steps that Russia has taken in choosing war in this instance.
Neil Mitchell: Well, we've heard that they've taken Chernobyl, that they are attacking a number of other cities around the country. What's your latest information on what is happening on the ground there?
Marise Payne: My information would reflect the reporting that you have heard. And clearly there are efforts to subdue Ukraine via these attacks and attacks on key points of infrastructure. The Ukrainian government, including through President Zelenksyy's public statements has indicated they will continue to fight back. But there is no doubt, Neil, that this is a very serious act of aggression, the worst we have seen in Europe in many decades.
Neil Mitchell: From a distance it looks like a David and Goliath battle. Is that a fair assessment?
Marise Payne: Well, I think if it is, then it has – if you stretch that metaphor then the outcome may be something slightly different than perhaps is being envisaged at this point. But importantly, the Ukrainian government has been very clear about the steps that it has endeavoured to take to protect itself. As an international community there are initiatives that we have been able to pursue, but particularly through sanctions, and the sanctions that both the US and the UK, for example, have taken in recent days are extremely significant. Australia has supported those and announced our own sanctions both on Wednesday and Thursday this week. And we are exploring further options there with our counterparts. Ultimately supporting Ukraine in whatever we can is the approach that we are taking.
Neil Mitchell: Vladimir Putin has said if there's any intervention by the West that there will be retaliation the like of which we have never seen before. Is that taken as a nuclear threat?
Marise Payne: Well, interpreting President Putin who has, so far, as we know, said that he had no intention of invading, that he was withdrawing, that the international community was not correct in its assessment that this was to happen means that nothing Vladimir Putin says can be taken to have any credit whatsoever. So we should expect that he will continue on this effort to bring Ukraine back under authoritarian control. What means he uses for that we will watch very closely.
Neil Mitchell: The aerial skier Danielle Scott has left the World Cup finals in Russia, and the Prime Minister has congratulated her. He says all international sports events in Russia should have their authorisations withdrawn from all international sports bodies, including the Formula 1 Grand Prix in Sochi. Do you – is that the policy? Is the policy that there should be a sporting ban against Russia?
Marise Payne: We should choose every lever we have and use every lever we have to continue to place pressure on Russia. A country that behaves like Russia, is behaving in relation to Ukraine has no right to participate in international competitions and in the international arena in any legitimate way. They have completely delegitimised themselves in these aggressive and unlawful acts. It is a wholesale breach of international law. That means that they have no – in my view they have no standing, and I agree with the Prime Minister.
Neil Mitchell: Hopefully in the short term this war doesn't go on a long time, because the longer it goes the more people die. But the world has changed long term, hasn't it? This attitude from Russia shows a whole new political atmosphere with international relations, does it not?
Marise Payne: It shows that authoritarian states most certainly are endeavouring to recast the world, in this case Russia over Ukraine, in their own preferred image. But these countries have chosen democracy. They have chosen the path of freedom over many years now. They are significant participants in the international community. And so Australia is working with our like-minded partners, whether it is against this sort of unilateral and authoritarian action or whether it is in relation to behaviour like countries like the DPRK and their use of missiles against UN sanctions and UN resolutions. We will continue to support those countries who have chosen a different path and continue to oppose the actions of authoritarian states.
Neil Mitchell: I know China won't listen you, won't listen to us. But would you expect them – would you hope that they would at least condemn what Russia's doing?
Marise Payne: I understand that some observations have been made by China that Russia has legitimate security concerns, Neil. This is not a statement that we can accept or, frankly, understand because there are no reasonable concerns that justify Russia's actions. I think permanent members of the UN Security Council have an obligation to call Russia's behaviour out and to be emphatic in relation to that. Anything else, particularly to accept Russia's totally false pretext for invasion is accepting propaganda and disinformation. And we simply could not support that.
Neil Mitchell: Do you expect it to be short term or drawn out, what's happening there?
Marise Payne: Neil, I think that is difficult to say. And I will receive further advice from Defence obviously on my return to Australia today. I've been in Europe, in Munich, in Prague, in Poland talking to key European partners who, of course, are feeling this very closely. And we will – I will regather in Australia and receive that advice today.
Neil Mitchell: I understand. Just quickly on another matter – and then I'll let you go – the Chinese ministry for national defence, a spokesman in the Global Times has accused Australia in that incident with the ship and the laser of military hostility, malicious provocation as part of a campaign stunt by the conservative government and says Australia is in the leading of the anti-China US van guard. What's your response to that?
Marise Payne: Neil, I haven't seen that, but if it appeared in the Global Times then I would address it with very limited acceptance of any credibility. But what I will say is that the Australian Defence Force absolutely does not act in that way and acts responsibly and appropriately, including in this context. The signing of – or the use of lasers in relation to that aircraft is dangerous, it has the potential to cause injury to both the crew but equally importantly a significant air accident, and it is completely inappropriate and unacceptable behaviour, and we have called that out and asked for an explanation from the Chinese authorities.
Neil Mitchell: But you would deny malicious provocation or military hostility?
Marise Payne: I would absolutely deny that. And I'm sure the Australian Defence Minister will do the same.
Neil Mitchell: Thank you very much for your time. I know it's very early there. Thank you. The Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne in Laos in South East Asia on the way back from those urgent conferences in Europe, which sadly failed and the war goes on. It's having an effect here in Australia. Petrol prices are going up.