Ukrainian president requests Australian armored vehicles
CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy appealed directly to Australian lawmakers Thursday for more help in its war against Russia, including armored vehicles and tougher sanctions.
Zelenskyy has been tailoring his message to individual countries through video appeals like the one shown to legislators in the Australian Parliament. Lawmakers gave him standing ovation at the start and end of his 16-minute address.
He called for Russian vessels to be banned from international ports.
“We need more sanctions against Russia, powerful sanctions until they stop blackmailing other countries with their nuclear missiles,” Zelenskyy said through an interpreter.
Zelenskyy specifically asked for Australian-manufactured Bushmaster four-wheel-drive armored vehicles.
“You have very good armed personnel vehicles, Bushmasters, that could help Ukraine substantially, and other pieces of equipment,” Zelenskyy said.
While the Ukrainian capital Kyiv was 15,000 kilometers (9,300 miles) from the Australian capital Canberra, Zelenskyy said Australia was not safe from the conflict which threatened to escalate into a nuclear war.
He suggested that a Russian victory over Ukraine would embolden China to declare war on Taiwan.
“The most terrible thing is that if we don’t stop Russia now, if we don’t hold Russia accountable, then some other countries of the world who are looking forward to similar wars against their neighbors will decide that such things are possible for them as well,” Zelenskyy said.
Zelenskyy also said Russia would not have invaded Ukraine if Moscow had been punished for the 2014 downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 in Ukraine.
Two weeks ago, the Australian and Dutch governments launched a legal case against Russia at the International Civil Aviation Organization to hold Moscow accountable for its alleged role in the missile strike that killed all 298 people on board. Of the victims, 196 were Dutch citizens and 38 were Australian residents.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison had earlier told the president that Australia would provide additional military assistance including tactical decoys, unmanned aerial and unmanned ground systems, rations and medical supplies. He later said the additional help would cost 25 million Australian dollars ($19 million).
“You have our prayers, but you also have our weapons, our humanitarian aid, our sanctions against those who seek to deny your freedom and you even have our coal,” Morrison said.
Australia has already promised or provided Ukraine with AU$91 million ($68 million) in military assistance, AU$65 million ($49 million) in humanitarian help and 70,000 metric tons (77,200 U.S. tons) of coal.
Earlier Thursday, the government announced Australia was imposing an additional 35% tariff on all imports from Russia and Belarus starting April 25.
Oil and energy imports from Russia will be banned from that date. Exports to Russia of Australian aluminum ore will also be banned.
Sanctions have been imposed on more than 500 individuals and entities in Russia and Belarus. The sanctions cover 80% of the Russian banking sector and all government entities that handle Russian sovereign debt.
Jeremy Fleming, who heads Britain’s electronic spy agency Government Communications Headquarters, used a speech in Canberra on Thursday to praise Zelenskyy’s “information operation.”
Fleming said Zelenskyy had been highly effective at countering Russia’s massive disinformation drive spreading propaganda about the war.
Russian President Vladimir Putin had apparently “massively misjudged” the invasion, he said.
“We’ve seen Russian soldiers, short of weapons and morale, refusing to carry out orders, sabotaging their own equipment and even accidentally shooting down their own aircraft,” Fleming said.