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Kremlin's aggression gives Australia reason to be concerned: Dutton


Defence Minister Peter Dutton says there are “many worrying signs” from Russia on the Ukrainian border as Europe looks to Australia as a potential gas supplier with Kremlin tensions increasing.

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Australia has ruled out direct military aid to Ukraine but will help with cyber capabilities, as Dutton says Russia’s actions are deserving of concern.

“The cyber attacks on the Ukraine at the moment – you would view that as the first step, as trying to knock out some of their systems and compromise some of their capability to respond to a Russian incursion,” he told radio station 2GB.

“All we can hope is there is an 11th hour reprieve.”

It comes as Europe looks towards gas suppliers other than Russia, including Australia.

Program director of energy at Grattan Institute Tony Wood says the US is trying to coordinate the diversification, with Australian gas already used to supplement supplies.

“I’m sure the conversations are being had (but) it doesn’t mean that Australia actually supplies its gas to Europe – Australia is a long way from Europe,” he told the ABC on Thursday.

“It could mean that gas that otherwise might go to Asia is diverted to Europe and then Australian gas replaces that gas in Asia.”

Wood said it wouldn’t be in Russia’s economic interest to cut gas supplies to Europe.

But the Kremlin has reduced the volume of gas in the past, already stretching the credibility of some of its long term gas contracts, he noted.

“It wouldn’t do that just capriciously but physically they could do that,” he said.

Wood said it is unlikely any ramping up of Australian exports would impact prices in Australia, with domestic use making up only a small percentage of local production.

Resources Minister Keith Pitt said Australia was one of the most reliable supplies of liquefied natural gas throughout the pandemic and would look to fill any gas gaps in the market.

Whether any shortfalls would provide Australian exporters with a long term opportunity or just become a short term fix was “a matter for exporters to determine”, he said.

Pitt refused to confirm whether Australian officials were in active discussions with the Europeans about gas supply.

UK Foreign Secretary Elizabeth Truss said Europe needed to become less reliant on Russian gas when addressing the Lowy Institute in Sydney after attending ministerial meetings.

“(Australia and the UK) are determined to act together … for our economic security,” she said last week.

“It means cutting strategic dependence on authoritarian regimes, starting with Europe’s dependence on Russian gas. We’re pushing for alternatives in energy supply, so that nations are less reliant on Russia for their gas.”

Meanwhile, a Ukrainian diplomat in Australia has urged the federal government to avoid panic as it evacuates some diplomatic staff and families from the country amid tensions with Russia.

“The situation in other parts of the country is totally safe. We’re confident there is a way out of this situation, there is a way to de-escalate and move forward,” Ukraine’s Charge d’Affaires in Australia Volodymyr Shalkivski told the Nine Network.

Europe’s ambassador to Australia Michael Pulch said Ukraine doesn’t pose a threat to European or Russian security, and any incursion on Ukraine’s border would be considered an invasion.

Russian action against Ukraine would make it a pariah in the international community and would be met with swift action from the West, he said.

“The deterioration of the security environment that Russia denounces is of its own making and it diverts attention to the support of separatist activities in eastern Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea,” he told the ABC.

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