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Australia stands with Ukraine, as must we all

In January this year, Penny Wong, the Australian Foreign Minister, spoke at King’s College in London to illustrate why Australia, an Indo-Pacific island continent and country, cares so deeply about the situation in Europe generally and in Ukraine specifically. Put simply: 

In our modern, tightly woven world, what happens in Europe reverberates in the Indo-Pacific. And what happens in the Indo-Pacific reverberates in Europe. No region – indeed, no country – is an island.

As the world today commemorates 32 years since Ukraine’s Declaration of Independence, the Ukrainian people are resisting valiantly Russia’s brutal and illegal invasion. This act of aggression is not only an attempt to subjugate Ukraine as a sovereign nation, but a concerted attempt to subvert the international rules-based order, enshrined in the United Nations (UN) Charter.

This is why Australia has proudly joined the multinational effort to support Ukraine. We do this not just out of solidarity with the Ukrainian people, but because Russia’s violations of international law, including the tenets of the UN Charter, subvert the rules-based order, essential to the ongoing stability and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific which we have seen since the end of the Second World War.

Since the outbreak of hostilities, Australia has committed approximately AU$710 million (£350 million) worth of military assistance, which includes 120 Bushmasters infantry mobility vehicles, 56 armoured personnel carriers and 14 Supacat special operations vehicles.

These have given Ukrainian forces added mobility on the ground, assisting them in their defence against the Russian invasion. Volodymyr Zelenskyy, President of Ukraine, described such contributions as having ‘performed masterfully in real combat operations’.

From October of this year, up to 100 Australian personnel from the Royal Australian Air Force will begin a six-month deployment to Germany, which will see an E-7A Wedgetail (early warning) aircraft contribute to the protection of the multinational gateway that enables humanitarian and military assistance to enter Ukraine. These are meaningful and impactful contributions that have been welcomed warmly by our Ukrainian friends.

Ukrainian forces also benefit from the training that takes place far from the theatre of operations. Some 70 Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel rotate through the United Kingdom (UK) as part of Australia’s Operation Kudu in Salisbury Plains, our contribution to the British-led international training programme.

Together with Australia’s Foreign Minister and Defence Minister, I had the privilege of meeting these personnel and Ukrainian recruits during this year’s AUKMIN summit. We can all attest to the ADF’s dedication and professionalism, and Ukrainian bravery on display.

Achieving stability and prosperity globally is the goal of deepening cooperation and coordination between Euro-Atlantic and Indo-Pacific nations.

In addition to the support we have provided to Ukraine’s armed forces, so too has Australia stepped forward to support the people of Ukraine with AU$75 million (£38 million) in humanitarian assistance, to help meet urgent needs.

Australia has also provided specialised support, such as thermal coal to mitigate the effects of winter weather, through to the protective equipment Ukrainian workers need to keep their nuclear power plants online. More than 10,000 Ukrainians have found temporary refuge in Australia and been provided with extended access to medical care and community support. They have been warmly welcomed warmly by the broader Australian community.  

Collectively, this provision constitutes one of Australia’s largest ever packages of foreign assistance, making Australia one of Ukraine’s largest non-NATO contributors. We are not alone. Japan and South Korea, together with other countries in the Indo-Pacific, have also provided generous packages of support.

For Australia and other Indo-Pacific countries, the principles that have supported the relative peace and prosperity of the post–Second World War era are not geographically bound. A stable Europe that reflects the principles of the UN Charter are important to Australia, just as the UK, through its Integrated Review Refresh, is positioning to uphold the same principles in the Indo-Pacific.

In many ways, the Indo-Pacific and Euro-Atlantic are increasingly integrated strategic spaces. What happens in the Euro-Atlantic theatre influences what happens in the Indo-Pacific theatre and vice versa.

The result of that shared understanding and integration is but one illustration of the modernisation and transformation of our bilateral relationship, underpinned by our trilateral AUKUS partnership with the United States and our Australia–UK Free Trade Agreement.

Just as we have taken concerted steps to address the situation in Europe, so Britain – a Euro-Atlantic power – is taking steps to bolster the stability and security in the Indo-Pacific.

Issues that have been familiar to Australian strategic thinking for sometime, and which guided the Defence Strategic Review I was honoured to co-author – supply chain diversity and resilience, access to a diverse supply of critical minerals and electric vehicle metals, and the freedom of navigation in international waters – are increasingly central to the UK’s strategic posture.

Indeed, the UK’s 2023 Integrated Review Refresh and Australia’s Defence Strategic Review demonstrate clearly our alignment on the epoch defining challenges we are facing and our shared urgency to respond to our changed strategic circumstances.

Achieving stability and prosperity globally is the goal of deepening cooperation and coordination between Euro-Atlantic and Indo-Pacific nations.

It is also our sincerest hope that stability and prosperity soon return to the people of Ukraine. Slava Ukraini.

Stephen Smith is the Australian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom.

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