Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced sanctions against Russia, imposed in line with those of Australia’s major allies the United States and the United Kingdom.
Morrison told a Wednesday news conference the measures were just the first, saying Russia was “behaving like thugs and bullies and they should be called out as thugs and bullies”.
He condemned the Russian government as autocratic and authoritarian. “Australians always stand up to bullies and we will be standing up to Russia, along with all of our partners”.
Travel bans and financial sanctions will be placed on eight members of the security council of the Russian Federation.
Sanctions will be imposed against the transport, energy, and telecommunications sectors, and oil, gas and mineral reserves in the Ukraine regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, occupied by Russia.
They will also target several Russian banks. Morrison said the Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, had spoken to the CEOs of the major Australian banks “to put them on alert to be aware of any suspicious transactions” .
“This is only the start of this process,” Morrison said.
The government was working with its partners to identify additional individuals and entities to be subjected to the sanctions.
Morrison said Australia didn’t have a large volume of trade with Russia.
“That said, it’s important that we play our part in the broader international community to ensure that those who are financing, profiting from an autocratic and authoritarian regime that is invading its neighbour should have nowhere to run and nowhere to hide when it comes to trying to move their money around to avoid the consequences of supporting this type of behaviour.”
He said the sanctions imposed by all countries “will just keep stepping up”.
Meanwhile visa applications for several hundred Ukrainians seeking to come to Australia will be fast-tracked.
Morrison said there were about 430 applications from Ukrainian citizens to come here, across a range of visa categories – student, family visas and others.
“There are some 1,027 Ukrainians outside of Australia who have visas to enter Australia, and, of course, they would be welcomed.”
Morrison warned Australia could face cyber attacks from Russia in retaliation.
The sanctions announcement came after cabinet’s national security committee ticked off on the measures, that have been anticipated for weeks.
Morrison predicted: “Russia is at peak readiness to now complete a full scale invasion of Ukraine and that is likely to occur within the next 24 hours”.
He warned against any “appeasement”, when asked about efforts to head off further Russian action.
“There cannot be any suggestion that concessions should be provided to a bully and a thug in return for not following through with threats of violence. That’s not the sort of appeasement I would ever support, and I don’t think Australians would either in this or any other situation.”
Morrison praised Germany for freezing approval of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. The pipeline, owned by Russia’s state-backed energy enterprise Gazprom, has been built to carry gas from Siberia to Germany.
Labor said it strongly supported the sanctions.
Late Wednesday Morrison spoke to Ukraine’s Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal, reaffirming Australia’s unwavering commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and emphasising Australia’s preparedness to do more, working with its partners, in response to Ukraine’s needs.
Authors: Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra