Why events around Ukraine matter for Australia

Australia is a consistent supporter of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. This support has always been bipartisan. Two like-minded nations, Ukraine and Australia champion world order based on international law.

Australia’s respect for international law and the primacy of sovereign borders, human rights and freedom of navigation led it to a principled stance on Russian aggression against Ukraine in 2014, together with all Western democracies.

Back then, the sanctions Australia imposed against Russia were the toughest of all Pacific nations. Today, Australia maintains solidarity with Ukraine and the wider democratic world in efforts to deter Russia from launching a new attack. Moscow’s aggressive intentions go far beyond Ukraine and threaten not only European but global order, as well as international trade and global food security.

In Ukraine, international peace and security are at stake. If we allow Russia to achieve its strategic goals in Europe, shockwaves will be felt all around the globe. They will represent the failure of democracies to defend what they stand for and hence will embolden those who challenge existing order.

Since November, Ukraine has been working closely with partners and allies to put together and implement a comprehensive deterrence package aimed at demotivating Russia from further use of military force. Australia can play an important role in the global strategy of containment.

What can Australia do?

Sanctions. It is time to impose tougher sanctions on Russia. Australia can legitimately use its new Magnitsky-style law against senior Russian officials close to President Vladimir Putin, who have long earned reasons to be sanctioned for gross human rights violations. The legislation was passed with bipartisan support just recently, in December 2021, and now Australia can use this effective tool to send Russia a strong deterrence message, in concert with like-minded nations.

Countering Russian propaganda. Russia pours millions in its state propaganda targeting democracies around the globe, including Australia. Russian disinformation narratives disregard truth and attempt to distort reality for the benefit of Russian foreign-policy goals.

Putin’s main disinformation tools, Russia Today and Sputnik, still freely operate in Australia. They disseminate false claims on all sorts of topics, from conspiracy theories surrounding the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 to undermining public trust in Covid-19 vaccines and justifying Russia’s 2008 invasion in Georgia and ongoing occupation of Crimea. The purpose is simple: sow confusion, manipulate public opinion, and undermine democratically elected governments and democracy as such.

As a nation that has learned how to effectively counter Russian propaganda, Ukraine knows that the realistic strategy is to ban these propaganda tools altogether. Propaganda is a state-sponsored lie, not an alternative or independent opinion. Banning it is a responsible decision for every democratic government to take in order to protect national media space and the fundamental right of freedom of speech.

Cyber assistance. Recently, a massive cyberattack targeted key Ukrainian government websites. Russia has a long track record of using cyber weapons against Ukraine and other European nations. The latest attack on Ukraine was similar to the nationwide cyberattack on Australia in 2020. Ukraine and Australia have already begun working together to reduce cyber risks. Australia has recently provided cybersecurity training to Ukraine and we are ready to broaden this cooperation to exchange best practices and strengthen cyber defences for both nations.

Defense assistance. In 2015 Australia provided military winter clothing, blankets and first-aid kits to the Ukrainian Armed Forces. We value this contribution, which helped reduce losses and played a role in deterring further escalation. Today, Ukraine is capable of defending itself and does not count, for instance, on Australia sending troops, but we do require a deeper military-technical cooperation to strengthen our armed forces.

Intelligence sharing. Australia and Ukraine are both NATO enhanced opportunities partners. We cooperate with the alliance on our bilateral tracks. But the current situation also provides for a great opportunity to enhance Ukrainian–Australian cooperation on intelligence sharing.

Financial support. Russian escalation not only threatens Ukraine militarily, but harms Ukraine’s economy and financial stability. Elevated security risks scare off investment and sow panic within the society. The US, Canada and the EU already provided Ukraine with additional financial support aimed at bolstering Ukraine’s economy amid a hostile buildup along our borders. For almost two years, Ukraine and Australia have been negotiating the inclusion of Ukraine in the Australian Generalised System of Tariff Preferences. Today it is not only about boosting our mutually beneficial trade, but also contributing to Ukraine’s financial strength and resilience.

Beyond Europe, the consequences of a potential new Russian intervention in Ukraine would ripple widely, causing major disruptions. It would lead to a significant spike in global oil and gas prices, creating additional unwelcome inflationary pressures for importing countries such as Australia and New Zealand.

Putin’s brinkmanship on Ukraine carries huge stakes not just for Europe but for the world. By joining forces we can protect democracy and the rule of law, human rights, freedom of navigation, international law, media freedom, and international peace and security. This global strategy requires coordinated pressure on Russia.