London: Anthony Albanese has met face-to-face met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in a historic first trip by an Australian prime minister to the war-torn country, pledging to boost military aid to Kyiv and impose further sanctions on Russian gold and several oligarchs.
Albanese, completing a week-long trip to Europe to attend a NATO summit in Madrid, made a surprise visit to the Ukrainian leader in his presidential office in Kyiv, announcing Australia would gift the nation 14 more armoured personnel carriers, 20 more Bushmaster vehicles and drones in a new $100 million assistance package.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese at a press conference with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.Credit:AP
Thousands of civilians have been killed and cities levelled since Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his troops to invade on February 24, with Kyiv accusing Moscow of deliberately targeting civilians. The actions have isolated Putin on the international stage, with the Western world imposing crippling economic sanctions, while Europe has vowed to phase out its use of Russian coal and gas.
“Australia stands ready to continue to support the government and the people of Ukraine for as long as it takes for Ukraine to emerge victorious in defence of your national sovereignty and your homeland,” Albanese told Zelensky as the pair stood behind podiums surrounded by three Australian and three Ukrainian flags.
“Because you are fighting for the international rule of law, you are fighting for international rules in which we conduct our activity to be respected and to occur in an orderly way.”
The visit, which was supposed to be top secret, was announced by the Ukrainian government and foreign media based in Kyiv. A 36-hour media blackout had been imposed on Australian reporters travelling with Albanese to Kyiv, while the remainder of the travelling pack were instructed by his office not to report the trip until he had reached Poland because of security concerns.
The additional $100 million of military support brings Australia’s total spending to almost $390 million – more than any other non-NATO country and more than some 30 nations in that grouping.
Albanese announced the government would also provide further support to Ukraine’s border guard service to upgrade its border management equipment, improve cybersecurity and enhance field operations.
Tariffs will also be removed on all Ukrainian imports to Australia, while the government will support Ukraine’s International Court of Justice case against Russia.
Albanese said he would further impose targeted financial sanctions and travel bans on 16 additional Russian ministers and oligarchs, and ban imports of Russian gold to reduce Russia’s ability to fund its war, joining with partners including Canada, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv on Sunday (local time).Credit:AP
Albanese said the “brutal” invasion of Ukraine by Russia was unprovoked, against international law” and the UN charter.
He said he’d seen first-hand on his tour of Bucha, Irpin, and Hostomel that residential buildings and homes had been the subject of brutal assault.
“Clearly, civilian areas have been targeted by the Russian forces as part of this illegal and amoral war,” he said.
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, looks at apartment buildings and vehicles damaged by Russian shelling in Irpin.Credit:AP
Albanese said Australia would assist in helping to get Ukraine’s grain “out to the world”, declaring the Russian-led blockade on its ports as another attack on “the human rights of the world” and those historically fed on Ukrainian grain.
Zelensky said his county was grateful for Albanese’s visit, but lamented such an occasion had not taken place during peacetime.
He said the key topics of the discussions were security cooperation between Ukraine and Australia, and the further protection of freedom.
“I am grateful to Australia for its firm, unyielding position on this issue,” he said.
“We must strengthen international cooperation in order to break Russia’s aggressive potential. We must increase the sanctions pressure on the aggressor.”
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese visits war-torn Irpin.Credit:AP
Zelensky said that Russia has created global threats that would be felt in all regions of the world, emphasising the importance of the Ukraine Recovery Conference that starts on Monday in Lugano in southern Switzerland.
“The amount of work on the already liberated territories is truly colossal,” Zelensky said.
“More than 2000 settlements in the east and south of Ukraine have yet to be liberated. I offered Australia to take part in the post-war reconstruction and I am grateful for the willingness to join the implementation of this, I am sure, ambitious project.”
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