Australia said on Sunday it was vacating its embassy in Kiev given the “deteriorating security situation” caused by a build up of Russian troops on Ukraine’s border, as prime minister Scott Morrison accused China of remaining “chillingly silent” on the issue.
“I want to send a very clear message on behalf of Australia … that the autocratic, unilateral actions of Russia, to be threatening and bullying Ukraine, is something that is completely and utterly unacceptable,” Mr Morrison was quoted as saying in news reports.
“Yes, the Chinese government is happy to criticise Australia for engaging in such peaceful activities but yet remains chillingly silent on Russian troops amassing on the Ukrainian border,” he said, referring to China’s criticism of his country’s dialogue with the US, Japan and India under the Quad grouping.
“The Government has directed the departure of staff at the Australian Embassy in Kyiv and temporarily suspended operations at our Embassy in Kyiv,” Foreign Minister Marise Payne said in a statement on Sunday. “We will be moving our operations to a temporary office in Lviv.”
“We continue to advise Australians to leave Ukraine immediately by commercial means. Security conditions could change at short notice … Russian military action in Ukraine will severely limit our ability to provide consular assistance to Australians. Australia continues to support Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” the statement said.
The United States and Europe stepped up their warnings of an imminent attack by Russia on Ukraine, while the Kremlin, jostling for more influence in post-Cold War Europe, rejected a joint EU-NATO diplomatic response to its demands to reduce tensions as disrespectful.
Mr Morrison’s government’s relations with China soured after Canberra banned Huawei Technologies from its 5G broadband network in 2018, toughened laws against foreign political interference, and urged an independent investigation into the origins of COVID-19.
“The coalition of autocracies that we are seeing, seeking to bully other countries, is not something that Australia ever takes a light position on,” he said.
Meanwhile, Kiev’s mayor Vitaly Klichko said on Saturday the Ukrainian capital’s authorities have approved an evacuation plan in case of a Russian invasion, TASS news agency reported.
“City services are already working to prevent an emergency situation of a military nature,” Mr Klichko was quoted as saying. “Our efforts are directed at preventing or overcoming possible provocations, and withstanding a military attack. We act in accordance with a clear plan.”
(With additional reporting from Reuters)
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