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Russia conflict ‘not inevitable’: Payne

Foreign Minister Marise Payne says there’s still time for Russia to back away from a potential war after President Vladimir Putin provocatively announced he’ll recognise two breakaway regions in Ukraine.

Mr Putin has signed a decree recognising the separatist rebel-held regions of Donetsk and Luhansk in eastern Ukraine as independent entities.

But Senator Payne says war in the region is not inevitable, in contrast to comments made by the prime minister and defence minister in recent days.

“This is not inevitable. This does not have to happen,” she told Sydney radio 2GB on Tuesday.

“There are still choices to be made by Russia here and we hope we can see productive discussions continue and this be avoided.”

It comes after former prime minister Tony Abbott said if Russia was successful, it could create a new Iron Curtin across Europe particularly if Mr Putin went on to target Poland and the Baltic states.

Senator Payne met with the Polish foreign minister and secretary of state at the Presidential Palace during a stop in Warsaw.

The foreign minister is in Europe for security talks.

“We have been canvassing with Ukraine and other counterparts, particularly through these meetings in Europe this week, the response of the international community should Russia take this deeply concerning step,” Senator Payne said.

“Countries in the region are very, very concerned. These are countries that have fought their way out of oppression in the past … and Australia has been very clear in our commitment to their sovereignty.”

Former Liberal foreign minister Julie Bishop – who once confronted Mr Putin over flight MH17, which was shot down over eastern Ukraine in 2014 killing 27 Australians – says she takes what the president says seriously.

“This is not a guy to be trifled with … but I do not believe the Russian president will see war in (his) interest,” she told the Nine Network.

“He will push it as far as he can, but I believe there must be a negotiated outcome. He will not accept a NATO membership on his border but there has to be another position that is acceptable to all.”

Ms Bishop says Russia is likely using the independence decree to either provoke a military response from Ukraine or cement the support of separatists in the event of a conflict with Ukraine.

Labor foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong says peace is best kept by speaking up against any unilateral changes to the status quo.

Senator Wong says silence on the aggression creates a potential risk for the Indo-Pacific region as well.

“It does have implications for the world if a member of the international community simply violates international law and engages in unilateral changes to borders,” she told the ABC.

“One of the reasons we have had one of the most peaceful, prosperous periods in human history since World War Two is, in general, there has been adherence to international law and a recognition that countries don’t simply invade each other without justification.”

Senator Wong also hit out at the prime minister for politicising national security and trying to frame Labor as weak and appeasing towards China.

“(Scott Morrison) is saying these things because he’s desperate to ensure his political survival, particularly after the deadly summer of Omicron,” she said.

“Labor will not take a backward step when it comes up comes to standing up for our national interests.”

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