Sydney, TGO: Australia will immediately introduce sanctions, including travel bans, on Russian individuals as Prime Minister Scott Morrison labelled Russia’s move on eastern Ukraine an “invasion”.
“The invasion of Ukraine has effectively already begun,” Mr Morrison said at a press conference in Sydney on Wednesday afternoon.
“Australia has always stood up to bullies, and we will be standing up to Russia. It’s unwarranted. It’s unprovoked, it’s unacceptable.
“Russia is at peak readiness to now complete a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. And that is likely to occur within the next 24 hours and there are even reports already showing… things of that nature, which could indicate that it has already begun.”
The move is in response to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s action in sending in the first major deployment of Russian troops into territory that is internationally recognised as Ukrainian, although has been controlled by Russian-backed separatists since 2014.
Morrison confirmed Australia would follow the US and Britain’s lead in sanctioning eight members of Russia’s security council which gave President Putin the advice and justification to recognise the breakaway Ukrainian regions and send troops into the territory.
Australia would impose sanctions – including travel bans and financial bans – on both Russian individuals and entities to punish them for the “invasion” of Ukraine, Morrison said.
This would include using the recent Magnitsky laws which target individuals for human rights abuses, in a significant expansion of the existing sanctions Australia already has on Russia for its 2014 annexation of Crimea.
Australia will also follow the US in placing financial sanctions on the breakaway Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.
Morrison said the sanctions were just a first step, and he would continue talking with allies such as the US, Britain and European nations on further sanctions.
“What this enables us to do is be more targeted on the perpetrators and the beneficiaries of this violence,” he said.
“We will be adding names to the list and we will ratchet it up further to potential areas of economic activity.”
The Prime Minister said Australia has no issue with the Russian people as well as the many Australians with Russian heritage.
“Let me be very clear about something: We have no quarrel with the people of Russia. None whatsoever,” he said.
“And I feel for the Russian people and there are many Australians of Russian extraction here who I know will be very disappointed by what President Putin is doing. They will feel strongly about that because that is not what they believe their country is about, that is not what their values are about or their heritage.
“This is the action of a Russian government, an autocratic authoritarian government that has forgotten what democracy is, and what liberal democracy is, in undertaking these actions of bullying and threats and intimidation. That is not what I believe the Russian people stand for and certainly those Australians who are Russian here.”
Earlier, President Joe Biden said the US was imposing “full blocking sanctions on two large Russian financial institutions”, VEB and Promsvyazbank, which have links to Russia’s military industry.
“Today’s actions, taken in coordination with our partners and allies, begin the process of dismantling the Kremlin’s financial network and its ability to fund destabilising activity in Ukraine and around the world,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in the statement.
The US is slapping comprehensive sanctions on Russia’s sovereign debt.
“That means we’ve cut off Russia’s government from Western financing,” Biden said. “It can no longer raise money from the West and can not trade in its new debt on our markets or European markets either.”
The US will also “impose sanctions on Russia’s elites and their family members. They share in the corrupt gains of the Kremlin policies and should share in the pain as well.”
The President also flagged US efforts with “Germany to ensure that the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline will not move forward”.
Foreign Minister Marise Payne earlier urged all Australians to immediately leave Ukraine.
There are 184 Australians registered as being in the country.
“We’ve been very, very clear that all Australians should leave Ukraine immediately. We’ve been saying that for a number of weeks now. Every Australian in Ukraine should leave for their own safety and security,” Payne told ABC radio on Wednesday morning.
“I don’t agree there is no stopping a comprehensive invasion. Russia still has, always has, the option not to proceed.”