Press conference - Prague

  • Transcript
Subjects: Russia-Ukraine conflict; Sanctions on Russia.
24 February 2022

Jan Livpasky, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Czech Republic: (Foreign language.)

Jan Lipavsky: Thank you Marise for visiting Prague.

MC: I invite you, Foreign Minister Payne, to say a few words.

Marise Payne: Thank you very much. It is a great delight to join you here. Jan, thank you so much for your hospitality today on my first ever visit to Prague. I should say in starting what an absolutely spectacularly beautiful city this is.

I am very honoured to have been given the opportunity to visit so soon after Prime Minister Fiala and his Government, including the Foreign Minister, took office. Certainly Australia and the Czech Republic enjoy very warm ties underpinned by shared values of democracy, of human rights, the Rule of Law and free and open markets.

I had the opportunity, the honour indeed, earlier today to visit the grave here in Prague of the last Australian killed in Europe in the Second World War at the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery. Private Lawrence Saywell was an escaped prisoner of war fighting with the Czech partisans and he was killed on the 8th of May 1945, when he reportedly tried to broker a local truce.

His medals, including two Czech decorations are in the iconic Australian War Memorial. His name is inscribed on the wall of the memorial. I was deeply moved this morning by the care and attention that is given to these graves, including those of unknown soldiers and airmen who lie at rest here in Prague.

So our ties are long‑standing and deep. But my visit to Prague today comes at a pivotal moment in our delightful relationship as strategic challenges from authoritarian states put pressure on the stability and security in both of our regions.

Today's very warm talks were an opportunity to discuss emerging international security threats and our efforts to promote an open, sovereign, prosperous and resilient Indo‑Pacific and Euro Atlantic.

We had so many things to discuss today we had a very, very full agenda, but we have identified some important areas in which we can deepen bilateral cooperation on common strategic challenges, promoting economic openness and trade diversification, opposing coercive economic practices and security threats in Europe and in the Indo‑Pacific.

It is significant I think that we meet in the context of dangerous Russian threats and aggression against Ukraine, and also as the Czech Republic prepares to take up the presidency of the UE. It's more important than ever that we work together to advance our shared vision for an open, inclusive and rules‑based world order in which sovereignty is respected, rights are protected, and disputes are resolved through dialogue rather than conflict.

Australia supports our close partners, including the EU and NATO, in ensuring that Russia pays a high price for any further aggression.

Australia and the Czech Republic will continue to focus our efforts within the United Nations and other multilateral organisations to preserve the integrity of international governance systems. And I particularly welcome the Czech Republic’s leadership on international arms control, on non-proliferation and disarmament, including your role on the Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Of course, both of our countries are firm supporters of free trade and I particularly welcome and acknowledge the support that you, Minister, have provided today for progressing the Australian EU free trade agreement.

Now my message for the people of the Czech Republic is that two days ago on the 21st of February, after the challenges of COVID‑19, Australia has reopened. We've opened our borders to all vaccinated visa holders. I look forward to welcoming tourists, business travellers, other visitors from the Czech Republic to Australia, and particularly at an appropriate time the Foreign Minister himself. My visit today is the strongest signal of the appreciation that Australia has for our friendship with the Czech Republic. Thank you very much.

Journalist: (Foreign language.)

Jan Lipavsky: (Foreign language.)

Marise Payne: Thank you. And if I can echo Jan’s observations on the economic relationship and particularly the opportunity we have to drive that further with progressing the Australia/EU FTA and we share a very strong commitment to doing that. But really, I think the visit that I am making shows the importance to Australia of our bilateral relationship more broadly, and I think we have both spoken today about the breadth of our discussion.

If I may say also in relation to Russia's actions in Ukraine, Australia has announced today our action to impose sanctions on Russian individuals and banks, as well as the prohibition of trade in Donetsk and Luhansk. This is a first phase we are coordinating closely with partners, including the US, the UK and European nations, to ensure that there are real costs for Russia's aggression.

In Australia's view, any suggestions that there is a legitimate basis for Russia's actions are pure propaganda and disinformation. The assertion by President Putin of Russian soldiers acting as peacekeepers is indeed an obscene perversion of the noble and vital role that generations of peacekeepers have played across the world.

There is absolutely no justification for Russia's unprovoked military actions. It is coercion, it is bullying by an authoritarian power against a democratic neighbour, and it will not be accepted by responsible nations that want to preserve an open, stable and secure world.

Journalist, Czech Radio: (Foreign language.)

Marise Payne: Thank you. As I've outlined, we have taken a number of initial steps because it is Australia's view that it is vital that we impose a heavy cost on Russia for its aggression against Ukraine.

And to be clear, as I believe my Prime Minister has also indicated, we will not hesitate to expand those sanctions. We already have a wider package of sanctions in reserve should Russia continue to escalate.

And we welcome the actions that like‑minded countries have taken who want to see a stable international order, including Germany, which has suspended the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project.

Jan Lipavsky: (Foreign language.)

Journalist: (Foreign language.)

Marise Payne: The individuals are the members of Russia's Security Council who provided the advice to President Putin in these most recent actions. I don't have all eight of the names with me but that is the constituent body.

Journalist: (Foreign language.)

Jan Lipavsky: (Foreign language.)

Marise Payne: Just briefly if I may. I do understand also, as [indistinct] said, the point that you make. But the alternative proposition is that there is no penalty, no cost for such unlawful authoritarian behaviour in breach of every aspect of international law, in breach of sovereignty and territorial integrity. And to those countries who are engaged together and groupings like the EU who are engaged together that is unacceptable. So we ultimately have to deal with the outcomes for the international economic environment of the application of sanctions. But it is not acceptable that there is no cost and no penalty for such authoritarian aggression.

Jan Lipavsky: Thank you.

END

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