Morrison lists more sanctions over ‘thug’ Putin’s Ukraine invasion

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has branded Russian president Vladmir Putin a “thug” over his “aggressive and unlawful” invasion of Ukraine, promising more Australian sanctions and criticising China over its response to the biggest military offensive in Europe for decades.

Feb 25, 2022, updated Feb 25, 2022
Photo: Roy Vandervegt / AAP

Photo: Roy Vandervegt / AAP

Speaking in Adelaide today, Morrison was blunt when asked how he would describe the Russian leader: “I call him a thug,” he said.

The prime minister said that from today, Australia would start imposing further sanctions on Russian oligarchs and over 300 parliamentarians who voted to authorise the “hostile, aggressive and unlawful” invasion of Ukraine.

He said the sanctions would align with those imposed overnight by the United States and would also target “key Belarussian individuals and entities complicit in the aggression”.

“These sanctions are being prepared in close consultation with our allies and partners and this is being done to demonstrate very forcefully that we’re all working together to shut Russia out as a result of their violence,” Morrison said.

“We’ve already announced two rounds of sanctions targeting culpable and prominent Russian individuals, banks and companies.

“We will work along with our partners for a rolling wave of sanctions in continuing to ratchet up that pressure on Russia.”

The new sanctions imposed by the United States last night include export blocks on technology and restrictions on Russian banks and “corrupt billionaires” and their families who are close to the Kremlin.

Morrison said Australia would also work with NATO to provide non-lethal and medical supplies, as well as financial support to Ukraine.

He called for sporting events scheduled to be held in Russia including the Formula 1 Grand Prix and the men’s volleyball international tournament to be cancelled, while also flagging his support for denying Russia access to Swift – the international payment system.

But he said it was unlikely that Australia would send troops to Europe.

“It is very unhelpful in the middle of a global conflict like this for people to be running around speculating about things that are not under consideration, that are not on the table and are just unlikely in any event to occur,” he said.

“I wouldn’t want to put any Australians through the concern or anxiety about that being a prospect.”

Morrison criticised the Chinese Government, describing its decision to ease restrictions on the trade of Russian wheat as “simply unacceptable” and “inexplicable”.

“You don’t go and throw a lifeline to Russia in the middle of a period when they’re invading another country,” he said.

“I’ve been criticised for calling it out, but on this, at present time, I’ve been a bit of a solo voice, but I can tell you my voice will not be silenced on this.

“This is of great concern to Australia that these acts are not being called out with the same voice when it comes to those in our region and this needs to be understood.”

As of this morning, there were no confirmed reports of cyber-attacks in Australia, but government is advising people to remain on “high alert”.

Premier Steven Marshall said he commended Morrison for his “strong response to the deteriorating and dangerous situation that is occurring in Ukraine”.

“Our thoughts are with the Ukrainian community here in Australia, more specifically in South Australia.”

Labor leader Peter Malinauskas also today labelled Putin a “tyrant” and said Russia’s invasion “cannot be allowed to pass”.

“The sight of Russian aggression again causing so much suffering to the cause of humanity and the depravation of liberty is something that rings particularly true for my family,” Malinauskas told reporters, noting his Lithuanian background.

“The Baltic states have in the past been the victims of Russian aggression, and to now see that unfold in Eastern Europe yet again at the hands of Vladimir Putin is deeply concerning.”

Marshall, Morrison and Finance Minister Simon Birmingham will meet with members of South Australia’s Ukrainian community today.

Photo: EPA/Luca Zennaro

It comes as Ukrainian forces battle Russian forces who invaded on three sides yesterday after Putin declared war in a pre-dawn televised address.

Explosions and gunfire were heard through the day in Ukraine’s capital and elsewhere in the country, with at least 70 people reported killed and thousands fleeing their homes.

The assault brought a calamitous end to weeks of fruitless diplomatic efforts by Western leaders to avert war over Russian.

“This is a premeditated attack,” US President Joe Biden said at the White House on Thursday as he unveiled harsh new sanctions, co-ordinated with allies, against Russian banks, oligarchs and state companies.

“Putin is the aggressor. Putin chose this war. And now he and his country will bear the consequences.”

In his address, Putin said he had ordered “a special military operation” to protect people, including Russian citizens, subjected to “genocide” in Ukraine – an accusation the West calls baseless propaganda.

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“And for this we will strive for the demilitarisation and denazification of Ukraine,” Putin said.

After nightfall, a picture emerged of fierce fighting across multiple fronts. President Volodymyr Zelenskiy late on Thursday ordered a general mobilisation “to ensure the defence of the state”.

The Ukrainian presidential office said Russian forces had captured the Chernobyl former nuclear power plant, north of Kyiv. The plant is along the shortest route from the Ukrainian capital to Belarus, where Moscow has staged troops.

There was also fighting at Hostomel airport, just outside Kyiv, where Russian paratroopers landed. A Ukrainian official later said the airfield had been recaptured, while a senior US defence official said Russian forces were advancing closer to Kyiv.

Heavy exchanges were also reported in the regions of Sumy and Kharkiv in the northeast and Kherson in the south.

The UN refugee agency said an estimated 100,000 Ukrainians had fled their homes. Thousands were crossing into neighbouring countries such as Romania, Moldova, Poland and Hungary.

Ukrainians take shelter in a Polish train station after fleeing across the border when Russia invaded. Photo: AP/Petr David Josek

Some 57 people were killed and 169 were wounded on Thursday, Ukraine’s health minister said, while the interior ministry said 13 border guards died when a Russian vessel shelled Ukraine’s Zmiinyi Island, south of the Black Sea port of Odessa.

The day began with missiles raining down on targets across Ukraine and reports of troops and armour pouring across the borders from Russia and Belarus.

Putin, after referring earlier in his speech to Russia’s powerful nuclear arsenal, warned: “Whoever tries to hinder us … should know that Russia’s response will be immediate. And it will lead you to such consequences that you have never encountered in your history.”

Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the threat was indeed understood as a use of nuclear weapons, adding Putin should also understand that NATO was a nuclear alliance.

Biden has ruled out sending US troops to defend Ukraine, but Washington has reinforced its NATO allies in the region with extra troops and planes.

After consulting with the G7, Biden announced measures to impede Russia’s ability to do business in the world’s major currencies, along with sanctions against banks and state-owned enterprises.

Britain also targeted banks, as well as members of Putin’s inner circle. European Union leaders said measures would include freezing Russian assets.

China, however, refused to describe Russia’s actions as an “invasion”.

Putin said he did not plan an occupation, only to disarm Ukraine and purge it of nationalists, and his endgame remains unclear.

A democratic nation of 44 million people, Ukraine voted for independence at the fall of the Soviet Union and has stepped up efforts to join NATO and the European Union, aspirations that infuriate Moscow.

Putin, who denied for months that he was planning an invasion, has called Ukraine an artificial construct – a characterisation Ukrainians see as an attempt to erase their more than 1000-year history.

There was also some dissent in Russia. Police detained more than 1600 taking part in anti-war rallies in 53 cities and authorities threatened to block media reports carrying “false information”.

Other protests against Russia’s invasion were held around the world.

-with AAP

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