Interview with Patricia Karvelas, ABC Radio National Breakfast

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Russian aggression against Ukraine.
25 January 2022

Patricia Karvelas:

The situation in Ukraine has deteriorated further with all Australians now being urged to leave the country by any commercial means available. It comes as NATO and the United States deploys more ships and fighter jets to Eastern Europe as Russia assembles an estimated 127,000 troops on the country’s border. Marise Payne is the Foreign Minister and our guest this morning. Marise Payne, welcome.

Marise Payne:

Good morning, Patricia.

Patricia Karvelas:

How many Australians are in Ukraine and what’s your advice to them?

Marise Payne:

Well, the advice is clear, as reflected in our updated travel advice yesterday – that Australians in Ukraine should leave now by commercial means where it’s safe to do so. We are conscious that flight availability could change or be suspended at short notice, and certainly security conditions could change at short notice.

There are around 1,400 Australians, including family – so family units – in Ukraine at the moment. Our Embassy has been in contact with them and we have a consular registration system in place for Ukraine for Australian citizens, permanent residents and those immediate family members as well.

Patricia Karvelas:

Are there the commercial means realistically available for them to leave?

Marise Payne:

There are certainly still flights available and flights operating, yes. And that is why we have taken the prudent step of suggesting that they make arrangements to leave now. This is a cautious and prudent step. It is because the security situation is unpredictable and it is about protecting Australians on the ground.

Patricia Karvelas:

Why has the Department of Foreign Affairs issued this urgent advice now? What sparked such a high level of concern?

Marise Payne:

I would describe this more a case of consulting with like-minded counterparts in Kyiv and on the subject of Ukraine. We have been doing that with the United States, with Canada, with the United Kingdom, and it is important that we are working together. We have to be cautious in relation to such uncertain circumstances. But I think it is the appropriate thing to do to protect Australians. Both the UK and the US have been reviewing their travel advice very closely as well.

Patricia Karvelas:

More than 120,000 soldiers are on the border, Minister. Are you expecting an invasion? Is that now inevitable?

Marise Payne:

I don’t think it’s helpful to speculate in that way. What I would say and what has been the clear diplomatic message, not just from Australia certainly but across Europe, including at the meeting of the EU Foreign Ministers yesterday, from the United States, from the United Kingdom, is that all have called upon Russia to take steps to de-escalate this situation, to remain engaged in reciprocal dialogue on these security concerns following the recent series of diplomatic meetings that I’ve just referred to.

We strongly support Ukraine’s sovereignty and their territorial integrity and a unified European and NATO response. This was a matter of some significant discussion at the AUKMIN ministers meeting in Sydney on Friday with Minister Dutton and myself and the UK Foreign Secretary and Defence Secretary as well.

Patricia Karvelas:

A spokesperson for Kyiv has tweeted that Australia is one of the four countries withdrawing family members of diplomatic staff in Kyiv and has criticise this as a premature step. What’s your response to that critique?

Marise Payne:

I understand the view that Ukraine officials have raised. But, importantly, my role and our role as a government is to ensure that we are protecting the dependants of our Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and other government agency staff and ensuring Australians are taking steps to protect themselves. But importantly, this decision does not change one iota our absolute and steadfast support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. We have been explicitly clear in reiterating that, and I do so again this morning.

Patricia Karvelas:

If Russia does take over Ukraine, what’s the consequences for world order? Could it spark a major confrontation between the East and West?

Marise Payne:

Again, I don’t think it’s helpful to speculate. But what is happening here is that authoritarian regimes are trying to exercise their power, their aggression potentially in relation to circumstances such as this. And it is not helpful to security and stability in any way, shape or form. We have been, again, very clear about that, as have multiple members of the EU, the UK and the United States. And we have clearly sought de-escalation of Russia’s behaviour in that regard.

Patricia Karvelas:

What kind of support is Australia prepared to deploy if this further escalates? Could it be military?

Marise Payne:

We have said that we will not be taking part – would not take part in relation to military assistance. I spoke with the Foreign Minister of Ukraine last week in a very constructive conversation, and I had a further conversation with Australia’s Ambassador in Kyiv on Friday evening our time.

What we are asking our Ambassador for Cyber Affairs and Critical Technology, Dr Toby Feakin, is to discuss possible avenues of assistance from Australia to the Ukrainian Government in the cyber context. There have been significant cyber attacks already on Ukraine, understood to come from potentially Russian sources. And to be very clear, this is a challenge that they have been dealing with for some time.

Dr Feakin has vast experience in this area, and Australia certainly has been working closely with partners in the international community, including already with Ukraine, on cyber resilience and cyber security, and if Australia can assist in that regard, we will.

Patricia Karvelas:

We already have a raft of sanctions against Russia. Is there any more room to move in that area?

Marise Payne:

These are always under review, and this, again, is a matter that was discussed with the UK Foreign Secretary and her Defence Secretary counterpart last week. They are a potential tool that Australia can use in concert with like-mindeds to indicate and to convey very strong concerns about such aggressive behaviour.

Patricia Karvelas:

Ukraine has complained of cyber warfare. Is that one area that we can help with?

Marise Payne:

Well, that goes back to the role of our Cyber Affairs and Critical Technology Ambassador, Dr Feakin, and the work that we’ve already done with Ukraine in the last year. And certainly, following my conversation with the Foreign Minister and follow-up conversation with our Ambassador we’ll be continuing to pursue that in the coming days.

Patricia Karvelas:

Will Vladimir Putin get away with bullying Ukraine like this? Does the rest of the world have a message for him?

Marise Payne:

The rest of the world has a very clear message. The rest of the world has indicated that we call upon Russia to take steps to de-escalate the situation. We do not accept the sort of behaviour that you refer to there as bullying. We are deeply concerned by the military build-up on Ukraine’s border. The European Union foreign ministers have conveyed that message again overnight. The UK, the United States, our friends in Canada have been equally clear that this sort of behaviour is completely unacceptable from authoritarian regimes, that it is not a case of might outweighs all in terms of exercise of power. The rules-based order has served us very well over the last seven decades and this is unacceptable behaviour, and Australia will continue to call with like-mindeds for a de-escalation of the situation and continue to call for support for Ukraine for sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Patricia Karvelas:

We mentioned that we are one of the few diplomatic missions that are urging these workers, the family members, to leave the Ukraine. But if you look at the situation now, we’ve got other key groups – NATO, the UN – who have not expressed their intention to follow what the Ukrainian embassy is saying are premature steps. Do you expect them to follow suit in the same direction that Australia’s taken?

Marise Payne:

Ultimately, they are matters for those countries and groupings. The United States has certainly taken similar steps, and I understand the UK is doing similar. But ultimately, they are decisions for each country. Our priority is protecting the safety of our staff and their dependants and also providing clear advice to Australians on protecting themselves as well.

Patricia Karvelas:

And the rules-based order that you say has served us well – and that is consistently Australia’s position – but it is in decline. Is that what you’re saying? That there is a fracturing of the rules-based system?

Marise Payne:

No, I’m saying that we have been dealing with similar challenges over time immemorial. We have seen issues like this arise in the past and continue to do so as is demonstrated by Russia’s behaviour in relation to Ukraine. But advocating for the observation of the rules-based order and advocating for authoritarian regimes to cease escalating situations like this is important. It is important to send those messages. It is important to engage in those diplomatic activities to ensure the views of like-minded nations – of in our case liberal democracies – are absolutely clear. And Australia will continue to do that.

Patricia Karvelas:

Minister, thank you for joining us this morning.

Marise Payne:

Thank you very much.

Media enquiries

  • Minister's office: (02) 6277 7500
  • DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555