Abbott brings sanctions on Russia into line with Europe

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop will discuss the situation in Ukraine at a NATO summit later this week. AAP/Nyein Chan Naing

Australia has increased its sanctions on Russia to match those of the European Union, after the move of troops into Ukraine.

The government did not boost sanctions when the EU and the US recently did, because it was concerned at the time about trying to get access to the site of flight MH17’s downing.

The government action comes ahead of a NATO summit in Wales this week, which Foreign Minister Julie Bishop will attend, that will discuss the Ukraine crisis.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott told Parliament there would be no new arms exports, no new access by Russian state-owned banks to the Australian capital market, no new exports from Australia’s oil and gas industry, no new trade or investment in the Crimea and further targeted financial sanctions and travel bans against individuals.

In fact, the sanctions will have little effect on Australia, which has very limited trade with Russia (including virtually no defence-related exports).

According to the Foreign Affairs and Trade Department’s website, two-way merchandise trade between Australia and Russia was worth nearly $1.8 billion in 2013.

Russia is Australia’s 31st-largest merchandise trading partner. Australian merchandise exports to Russia in 2013 were worth $736 million and imports from Russia around $1 billion.

Australian exports to Russia in 2013 included meat, butter and live animals. Crude petroleum dominated Australian imports from Russia.

Australia’s services exports to Russia in 2013 were worth $165 million and imports of services $101 million. Services exports were mostly personal travel and education-related travel.

Russia could be facing imminent fresh EU sanctions, reportedly likely to target senior Russian figures and the defence, energy and financial sectors. British Prime Minister David Cameron has said the European Commission would present firm proposals for upgrading sanctions within a week.

The behaviour of Russia is increasing the prospect of President Vladimir Putin being uninvited to the G20 in Brisbane in November. Abbott has said he will consult other countries to test opinion because this would be a collective decision.

Abbott said today that Russia was deliberately and openly violating Ukrainian sovereignty. NATO had said that at least 1000 Russian soldiers were operating openly inside Ukraine. “NATO has released imagery showing combat forces including heavy weapons and armoured vehicles in operation inside the Ukraine,” Abbott said.

“So far, at least 2500 people have lost their lives in this conflict.”

Russia had started the conflict and Russia must take responsibility for this loss of life. “Russia quite brazenly is trying to break the eastern Ukraine away from Ukraine itself,” he said.

If Russia persisted in its attempt to break up a neighbouring country that had done it no harm, “it risks becoming an international pariah”.

The “bullying of small nations by big ones and assertions that might is right should have no place in our world”.