Australia to open embassy in Kiev and provide military assistance

Australia will open an embassy in Kiev and is considering providing military assistance to Ukraine as it battles Russian-backed rebels, Prime Minister Tony Abbott has told Parliament.

Mr Abbott said the “interim” embassy would support nine Australian Federal Police investigators who are in Ukraine investigating the Malaysia Airlines MH17 tragedy.

He said the Government was also considering short-term humanitarian and non-lethal military assistance to Ukraine, and was suspending uranium exports to Russia.

“Australia and Ukraine are geographically distant but we have grown close in responding to the MH17 atrocity in which 37 Australians were murdered, were murdered by Russian-backed rebels,” Mr Abbott said.

“In the medium term, we are considering civil and military capacity-building assistance to that country.”

Mr Abbott said Australia was grateful for Ukraine’s help in recovering the bodies of passengers on MH17, which was shot down over eastern Ukraine in July with the loss of nearly 300 lives.

“The Government, and I believe the Australian people, would like to repay Ukraine for its support and friendship, especially as Ukraine continues to be subject to active destabilisation and indeed outright invasion from Russia, a country it has never ever sought to harm.” the PM said.

“We will do what we can to help our friends and to uphold the rule of law around the world.

“I am pleased that our flag will shortly fly alongside Ukraine’s as a sign of our support in these troubled times.”

Tony Abbott

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott

Mr Abbott also confirmed Australia had suspended uranium exports to Russia.

In recent days, the Government has increased its trade sanctions against Russia over its response to the Malaysia Airlines plane attack, as well as its stance on Ukraine.

During Question Time, Greens MP Adam Bandt asked Mr Abbott whether uranium sales would be added to the sanctions.

“There will be no Australian uranium sales to Russia until further notice and Australia has no intention of selling uranium to a country which is so obviously in breach of international law as Russia currently is,” Mr Abbott said.

Putin and Ukrainian president in telephone talks

Russian president Vladimir Putin spoke to his Ukrainian counterpart Petro Poroshenko by telephone today, with the two leaders largely agreeing on what needs to be done to resolve the Ukraine crisis, Russia’s Interfax news agency reported.

“The viewpoints of the presidents of the two countries largely coincide on possible ways out of the grave crisis situation,” Mr Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted as saying.

The report came as US president Barack Obama touched down in Estonia for talks with Eastern European leaders ahead of this weekend’s NATO summit in Wales.

Mr Obama is expected to use his trip to reaffirm Washington’s commitment to the security of ex-Soviet NATO members.

Estonia and other Baltic nations have been calling for permanent NATO bases in eastern Europe amid the escalating tensions fuelled by the fighting in eastern Ukraine.