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  • Rikki Lambert

Russia reacts angrily to Australian sanctions

Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavsky, right, and Australian counterpart Marise Payne in Prague on Wednesday

The Russian embassy has responded to Australia's imposition of sanctions, accusing it of turning a blind eye to the plight of residents of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions within Ukraine territory.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison says Russian President Vladimir Putin appears intent on following through on his threat of an invasion, telling national radio on Thursday morning:

"As yet we haven't seen the full-scale invasion take place in Ukraine and let's hope that that still is averted.
"But Russia is it at peak readiness for such a full scale invasion - that's our advice."

President Vladimir Putin signed a decree on the deployment of troops to the breakaway enclaves in the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk in eastern Ukraine in a move he said is aimed at keeping the peace.

The Russian embassy has responded at the new measures, accusing Australia of turning a blind eye to discrimination by:

"...the radical nationalistic regime in Ukraine and to the plight of civilians in Donbass living for years under blockade and constant shelling from the Ukrainian military".
"In alignment with its key partners, Canberra has played its part in supporting and encouraging the xenophobic bullies based in Kyiv."

In a statement, the embassy said the decision to recognise the Donetsk and Luhansk regions on humanitarian grounds to "protect" civilians, including hundreds of thousands of Russian nationals.

"(Russia) will from now on guarantee the right of (Donetsk and Luhansk) residents to live in peace and preserve their language and cultural identity."

Mr Morrison rejected Russia's characterisation of the two territories it occupies and accused the country of spreading misinformation.

Australia has not asked Russia's ambassador to leave the country, but Mr Morrison said sanctions would be taken one step at a time.

Opposition leader Anthony Albanese said on Wednesday afternoon:

Russia's ambassador to Australia, Alexey Pavlovsky, was also hauled in to meet with the secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade on Wednesday afternoon following the announcement of the sanctions.

The prime minister said 185 Australian citizens in Ukraine have requested assistance to leave the country. It's estimated there are about 1400 Australians in Ukraine, although the majority have elected to stay.

Mr Morrison confirmed about 430 visa applications from Ukrainians had been made to extend visas by six months.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne said it was an "obscene perversion" for Russian President Vladimir Putin to speak of Russian soldiers acting as "peacekeepers" in Ukraine, telling reporters during a visit to the Czech capital Prague:

"Any suggestions that there is a legitimate basis for Russia's actions are pure propaganda and disinformation."

She said Australia would not hesitate to impose more sanctions if Russia escalated tensions.

Overnight on Wednesday, Ukraine declared a state of emergency and told its citizens in Russia to leave while Russia began evacuating its embassy in Kyiv in the latest signs that a full-scale invasion could be imminent.

The head of the Ukrainian mission in Australia, Volodymyr Shalkivskyi, told the Nine Network on Thursday his country is on full alert, saying:

"A full-scale invasion is possible. There is still the movement of Russian troops along our borders and, actually, build-up of those troops. We are getting ready.
"There is still room for negotiations and we keep that door open."

Asked if he thought sanctions imposed by the United States - and others including Australia - would deter Mr Putin, Mr Shalkivskyi said:

" cannot use kind of normal logic when you consider the actions of Mr Putin".
"(Russia) has military superiority over Ukraine, it has nuclear weapons, at least, in their possession.
"But the consequences of full-scale invasion might be very dramatic for the entire world because, well, first of all, it's not going to be a one-day invasion. Ukraine will resist."

Australia has ruled out direct military assistance but is supporting Ukraine's cyber capability.

On Thursday morning, Prime Minister Morrison tweeted:


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