Ukraine Russia invasion: Anthony Albanese, Richard Marles defends not sending Hawkeis in new package
The federal opposition have ramped up their criticism of Australia’s latest military aid package to Ukraine, after the government fell short of announcing it was sending vehicles Kyiv have long been requesting.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, Defence Minister Richard Marles, and Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong on Monday announced a new $110 million assistance package bound for Ukraine, comprising 70 military vehicles, including 28 M113 armoured vehicles, 14 Special Operations Vehicles, and trucks and trailers; as well as $10 million in humanitarian assistance.
The glaring omission in package was Ukraine’s three key requests – a fleet of Hawkei protected mobility vehicles; Abrams tanks; and additional Bushmaster vehicles – all of which Kyiv have been calling for months.
Opposition Leader Peter Dutton said the government’s failure to provide Ukraine with Hawkei vehicles would damage Australia’s international reputation.
“I don‘t get it. The Hawkei is available. It’s something that’s manufactured here and you can increase the numbers so that Defence doesn’t go without,” the Opposition Leader told reporters in Western Australia.
Mr Dutton said the Ukrainian Defence Minister and other government officials in the eastern European nation had told Australia the Hawkeis would provide them with “significant benefits” in their fight against Russia.
“Why not take their advice, and if there are problems with the vehicle, then let them be sorted out (in Ukraine)” Mr Dutton asked.
“The Ukrainians no doubt are aware of that. So I don‘t understand the Prime Minister’s response here.”
Earlier, Mr Albanese defended not sending any Hawkeis or Bushmasters in the latest round of military aid.
“The Hawkei’s, the defence advice, with respect to some of the commentators it’s easy to just come up with a statement without examining … the Hawkeis would not be appropriate,” he told ABC Radio.
“There’s a range of reasons why that is the case, and it doesn’t assist people you’re trying to assist who are conducting a war to send them a piece of equipment that will not provide the best assistance.”
The Coalition’s foreign affairs spokesman, Simon Birmingham, had earlier said opposition were concerned that the package “involves older military equipment” and doesn’t address Ukraine’s “specific asks”.
“This package feels like it is inadequate, and too small, and it’s also come too slowly,” he told ABC News.
“The last major commitment was made back in October last year and we have been calling, and Ukraine has been pleading, even publicly through communications campaigns for months now, for additional support, and yet it’s only now forthcoming and in this more limited nature.”
Senator Birmingham said Australia had the capabilities to provide the Hawkeis and Bushmasters – both manufactured in Australia – to Ukraine, who say the vehicles would “meet their operational needs”.
But Mr Marles said Ukraine had approached Australia with “a menu of items” they thought could provide assistance for their ongoing effort – now in its 16th month; and it was decided armoured vehicles were the best way forward.
“We talked through what we saw as issues with the Hawkei and its practical utility for Ukraine. Ukraine understand that, and it’s difficult to go into that in the public space,” he told ABC News.
“We want to make a difference for Ukraine, to make sure we’re giving Ukraine equipment that will help their effort.”
Defence analysts have joined the Coalition in calling the package disappointing and underwhelming, criticism Mr Marles rebuffed.
“Ukraine has been very welcoming and fulsome in its praise in light of the package we announced yesterday,” Mr Marles said.
“We are looking at the equipment that can make a difference, and this goes to the requests that Ukraine are asking of us.
“That we’re punching above our weight is something that’s acknowledged throughout Europe and around the world, and we’re very proud of that.”
Ukraine’s top diplomat in Australia, Vasyl Myroshnychenko, thanked the government for their latest package.
“I hope that Australia will continue supporting Ukraine – be it with Bushmasters, be it with tanks or any other vehicles,” the Ukrainian ambassador told ABC News.
“I think it’s very important for that assistance to continue. We appreciate it, we’re defending democracy, we’re fighting the war, we’re out there together, we’re much stronger together.”
Mr Marles said Australia, as with all democracies, “will need to stand with” Ukraine for as long as the protracted conflict went on.
The latest package comes as Russia came under fire within its own ranks on the weekend, as the mercenary group Wagner staged a mutiny, and threatened to take control from the government.
The threat was short-lived, after Belarus intercepted and the group’s head Yevgeny Prigozhin left Russia.
Russian President Vladimir Putin early on Monday Australian time said the Wagner uprising had been “doomed to fail”.
Mr Myroshnychenko said it had been “extraordinary” watching the events in Russia play out.
“We understand his leadership was challenged, and to see that somebody of his creation could have risen up against him is unheard of in Russia and it doesn’t usually happen,” he said.
“I think there are a lot of things signalling that (Putin’s) grip on power is diminishing … we will be watching the situation very closely.”
Mr Marles said it was clear the events of the weekend had “weakened” Russia.
“(Putin) remains in charge of Russia, but this is a crack in the edifice,” Mr Marles said.
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