Ukraine’s president, Petro Poroshenko, laughs with Australia’s prime minister, Tony Abbott, during their meeting in Melbourne on Thursday.
Prime minister tells Ukraine’s president exports from Australia could help secure Ukraine’s energy sources
Australia is considering exporting coal and uranium to Ukraine it was announced, as the leaders of the two countries met for a historic state visit.
President Petro Poroshenko became the first Ukrainian leader to visit Australia, after accepting an invitation from the Australian prime minister, Tony Abbott, to discuss security issues in the wake of the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in July.
“The MH17 atrocity has brought our countries together in a remarkable way,” Abbott told reporters on Thursday.
“I want to say thank you to you, Petro, for the help and assistance that Ukraine and your government gave to Australia and our citizens in the aftermath of that terrible atrocity. And coming from this tragedy, I believe will be a strong and lasting friendship between the Australian people and the Ukrainian people,” Abbott said.
A permanent Australian embassy is due to open in Kiev in February, and Poroshenko has invited Abbott to Ukraine for a state visit, saying he is one of the most popular foreign leaders in the country. “It’s nice to be popular, even if only in Kiev,” Abbott quipped.
Abbott and Poroshenko attended an ecumenical church service on Thursday to honour the nearly 300 victims of the MH17 disaster, 38 of whom were Australian.
“I should acknowledge the part that faith has played in our culture and in our public life, in the culture and public life of civilised countries,” Abbott said.
“There would hardly be a country on Earth so subject to existential threat as Ukraine is. If the freedom of one country is diminished, the freedom of all is diminished. I have come to know Petro Poroshenko quite well over the last few months. And I want to say that not just Ukraine, but freedom has a great champion in Ukraine’s president.”
Australia is part of an International Monetary Fund contribution aimed at stabilising Ukraine, which has been in a precarious security situation since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March. Russia sides with rebels in eastern Ukraine, but denies providing them with the arms that brought down the Malaysia Airlines flight.
Abbott and Poroshenko acknowledged the importance of securing energy sources for Ukraine, and said that Australia would consider the export of coal and uranium to the country.
Russia has threatened to take Ukraine to the international court if it fails to pay the more than $3bn it owes the Kremlin in unpaid energy debt. Shipments of natural gas from Russia to Ukraine started again after a six month suspension, ending an energy crisis in the country.
Abbott also announced that Australia would give $2m to the Ukrainian military, but skirted the issue of whether Australia was taking sides in the conflict.
“The side we take is the side of freedom, democracy and self-determination,” Abbott said, adding that he had frank discussions with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, when the leader was in Australia for the G20 conference in Brisbane last month. “We seek freedom and dignity for every person in every country and that’s not taking sides.”
Abbott wants Putin to keep his promises on promoting peace in the region. “I say to president Putin, who obviously I’ve got to know reasonably well over the last few months, that this is an opportunity for him to be a statesman as well as a patriot,” Abbott said. “And I appeal to everyone to heed the better angels of their nature here because… we will all advance together or none of us will advance at all.”
Poroshenko wants those responsible for the shooting down of MH17 to be deemed a terrorist organisation and said Ukraine was “making war for peace” to defend its borders. “The truth is with us,” Poroshenko said. “The whole world is with Ukraine, and Russia stays in isolation.”
Russia has denied sending troops to the eastern parts of Ukraine, saying that Russian fighters stationed there are volunteers who feel empathy with Crimeans, many of whom look to Moscow for leadership.
Australia has condemned the annexation of the area, and has called for tougher sanctions to be imposed on Russia until peace talks are successful.