Ukraine’s eastern European neighbours are concerned they could be Russia’s next targets, but Australia is committed to protecting their sovereignty.
That’s the message from Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne, who has spent the last few days in Munich in high-level security talks as Russia’s threats of invasion ramp up.
In the past few hours, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree that would recognise the Ukrainian territories of Donetsk and Luhansk as independent states, sharpening fears conflict will soon escalate.
In a marathon televised address, Mr Putin claimed Ukraine was part of Russia’s history and had never been an independent nation.
Senator Payne says European countries like Poland and Lithuania, who neighbour Ukraine, are concerned Russia could target them next.
“Countries in the region are very concerned,” she told 2GB on Tuesday morning.
“These are countries that have fought their way out from behind this sort of oppression in the past. They have done so with courage and strength, they have grown and developed over many years.
“Australia has been very clear about our commitment to their sovereignty and their territorial integrity.
“We will not be changing that position.”
Senator Payne’s comments come after former prime minister Tony Abbott told a conservative think tank that a “new iron curtain will ring down in Europe” if Russia seizes Ukraine.
He warned an invasion could also spur China to invade Taiwan, which would tip the balance of power against the West and threaten democracies.
Mr Abbott used his speech to call for more decisive action in the face of Russia and China’s escalating threats, and argued that the West needed to implement lessons learned in the Cold War.
He also warned that President Putin would not stop until he re-instilled Russia as “the overlord of Eastern Europe”.
“I fear the only thing that will stop him is death, defeat, or the conviction that he would lose,” Mr Abbott said.
He said the Russian president would turn his attention to the Baltic States, Poland and other former Soviet nations after turning Ukraine into a colony.
Labor’s foreign affairs spokesperson Penny Wong said Australia should focus its diplomatic efforts on deterring Russia from making any further decisions about invasion.
“I don’t think it’s useful to necessarily publicly traverse all of the consequences, but we know there are no good consequences from this sort of aggression from Russia,” Senator Wong told ABC Radio National.
But Western countries are continuing to urge Russia not to invade, with Senator Payne reiterating that conflict “can be avoided”.
“We are continuing to request and suggest, as the US and UK and countries in the European Union have done, that this is not inevitable,” Senator Payne said.
“This does not have to happen. There are still choices to be made by Russia here.
“We hope that we can see productive discussions continue and this to be avoided.”
Senator Wong said Russia’s latest move to recognise independent states was a “blatant violation of territorial integrity”.
“This is why the international community have to be united and have to be clear there is no justification, no matter what Mr Putin says, for a decision to engage in conflict,” Senator Wong told ABC Radio.
“We would join with not only the Australian government, but many European governments and the United States in being very clear that this is a violation of international law, and not providing any justification for conflict in eastern Ukraine.”
Australia is working closely with its “like minded partners” to determine what sanctions would be imposed if Russia does invade Ukraine.
Senator Payne said whatever sanctions were decided would be “deep, serious, and have a real impact”.