Prime Minister Scott Morrison has spoken with his Ukrainian counterpart to offer support after announcing sanctions on Russian businesses and individuals today.
He said Australia would initially impose travel bans and targeted financial sanctions on eight members of the Security Council of the Russian Federation.
The sanctions will also include entities linked to Moscow, as well as Russian banks, transport, energy, telecommunications, oil, gas and minerals.
Australia will also extend the sanctions currently imposed on Crimea to include Donetsk and Luhansk, the separatist states in eastern Ukraine.
Mr Morrison said the sanctions on individuals and entities would target “the perpetrators and beneficiaries of this violence”.
“We will be adding names to the list,” he said.
“And we’ll be ratcheting it up further to potentially other areas of economic activity.”
Mr Morrison would not explicitly name the individuals sanctioned by Australia but said they were the same people blacklisted by the UK and US.
He said the sanctions would “ensure there are severe costs” to Russia’s aggression and keep Australia in lock-step with the US and UK.
A spokesperson for Mr Morrison confirmed he had spoken to Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal by phone tonight, pledging support for the eastern European nation.
“Prime Minister Morrison reaffirmed Australia’s unwavering commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and denounced Russia’s aggressive behaviour towards Ukraine as unacceptable, unprovoked and unwarranted,” the spokesperson said.
“The Prime Minister informed Prime Minister Shmyhal of Australia’s immediate action to sanction Russian individuals, organisations and banks as part of an international effort to impose a sharp cost on Russia for its actions against Ukraine.”
The spokesperson said Mr Morrison was prepared to do more, if necessary, to respond to the country’s needs.
Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said sanctions against Russia were appropriate and necessary.
“It is absolutely vital that all nations which are democratic and that value the importance of national sovereignty being respected take action in support of the people of Ukraine,” Mr Albanese said.
Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong also threw her support behind the decision.
“We do offer bipartisan support on the sanctions announced,” Ms Wong said.
Mr Morrison, like US President Joe Biden, said the Russian invasion of Ukraine had already begun.
“Australians always stand up to bullies,” Mr Morrison said.
“And we will be standing up to Russia along with all of our partners.
“These two actions will align us with our key partners the United States and the United Kingdom.”
Mr Morrison said there are 1400 Australians currently in Ukraine.
Around 430 visa applications from Ukrainian citizens were currently being assessed by Australian officials.
“They’re in Ukraine and they’re in the firing line of Russians guns and missiles,” Mr Morrison said.
“All nations who want to stand up to bullies should do so now.”
Mr Morrison said the situation had now reached “the last stage before a full invasion” and Russia had now built to a “peak of military preparedness”.
“They’re behaving like thugs and bullies,” Mr Morrison said.
“Tragically, the sheer force of that violence of a thug and bully is about to be impacted upon the people of Ukraine,” he said.
He said it was “only a matter of time” before they walked away or followed through “and sadly the signs are that they will follow through”.
The prime minister said Australia would not be sending troops to Ukraine or its neighbours.
“We’re able to assist in the broader efforts … but that doesn’t involve people being deployed in the region,” Mr Morrison said.
Mr Morrison said intelligence agencies would ramp up counter-espionage efforts.
Suspicious financial transactions would be monitored closely and Australia was preparing for potential cyber-attacks.
Mr Morrison earlier today called an emergency meeting of the National Security Committee of cabinet to discuss Australia’s response.
The Federal Government has also held talks with its Five Eyes international intelligence partners.
Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews said discussions included cyber security.
“We are concerned about protecting Australia’s interests and we are concerned about the potential for a cyber attack, particularly on our critical infrastructure in Australia,” Ms Andrews said.
Troops have started to move into rebel-held areas of eastern Ukraine, a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin recognised Donetsk and Luhansk independent territories.
Coalition Senator Matt Canavan earlier today said Australia should join the global effort to prevent further aggression from Russia.
“Look, we should join the global effort. There is no doubt about that,” Mr Canavan told Today.
“There should be consequences for this type of action, which does not represent the sovereignty of other countries.
“Of course we’re a long way from this situation and we don’t have extensive trade or investment links with Russia but, yes, we should be part of this effort and do what we can here to prevent further aggression from Russia and/or other countries in our region.”
Yesterday the Federal Government confirmed Australia’s remaining diplomatic staff in the Ukrainian city of Lviv will leave and move to eastern Poland and Romania.
Mr Morrison described the suggestion that troops were being ordered into the Moscow-backed separatist territories to maintain peace as “nonsense”.
“It should unconditionally withdraw back behind its own borders and stop threatening its neighbours,” Mr Morrison said.