Russia says it’s not irrational after Australian defence minister calls president an ageing dictator amid tensions over Ukraine
Russia’s ambassador has hit back at the Australian defence minister, Peter Dutton, for branding Vladimir Putin an ageing and irrational dictator, amid growing tensions over the buildup of more than 100,000 Russian troops near Ukraine’s border.
The ambassador to Australia, Alexey Pavlovsky, said if that was “the level of analysis informing Australian policy then it is definitely a worrying sign” and argued that some western politicians had been “convinced by their own propaganda”.
As concerns grow in the west about the Russian president’s intentions, Pavlovsky also suggested that new sanctions against the country’s officials – which Australia has not ruled out – would have no effect on Moscow’s position but would come at a “high price” to Australia.
Addressing the media for more than an hour in a hotel conference room in Canberra on Friday, Pavlovsky mounted a defence of Russia’s position, denied the troop presence was a sign of aggression and at times bemoaned the quality of Australian journalism and policy-making.
“Australians definitely are entitled to more meaningful understanding of the situation than comic book-style propaganda like Batman versus Joker – I mean, liberal democracies versus autocracies,” he said.
Pavlovsky sought to counter the idea that Russia was irrational for being concerned about the expansion of Nato and for its push to prevent Ukraine from ever joining the military alliance.
“There is a campaign trying to portray our concerns as irrational,” he said.
“I understand that the propaganda machine in the west is very powerful … We see now that the politicians have come to be convinced and hypnotised by their own propaganda.”
Dutton had on Thursday branded Putin an ageing dictator who is becoming “more and more irrational”.
The defence minister argued the international community must “put as much pressure on Russia as possible” to prevent a “devastating” invasion of Ukraine.
Western countries have voiced increasing concern about Russia’s buildup of troops near the Ukraine border but opinions differ on if, or when, Putin plans a full-scale military invasion.
Russia has demanded security guarantees and a promise that Ukraine never be admitted to Nato, which the US has rejected.
Pavlovsky denied the troops were a threat, instead characterising the buildup as a “a warning to Ukraine not to try any reckless military adventures, not to interpret the support they have from the west as carte blanche to do such crazy things”.
But Pavlovsky said he would “not go further” when pressed on what action Russia would take if that “warning” was not heeded.
“There’s no aggression because our troops are on our territory.”
Pavlovsky dismissed the positions of western countries, including Australia, suggesting their credibility was tarnished because of their invasion of Iraq in 2003 under the “fake pretext” that Saddam Hussein’s regime had weapons of mass destruction.
A senior Ukrainian representative in Australia rejected the Russian ambassador’s claims.
Volodymyr Shalkivskyi, the chargé d’affaires at Ukraine’s embassy in Canberra, said he believed any country would feel threatened if more than 100,000 troops were stationed at the border.
“It’s quite a game of words from his side in terms of how to consider it, whether it’s a threat or warning, or something else. For us, it’s a clear threat,” Shalkivskyi told Guardian Australia.
“It was really amusing to hear from the Russian side about western propaganda. That is kind of a really unexpected turn, given the mass-scale propaganda inside and brainwashing inside Russia.”
Shalkivskyi said he believed the Kremlin was in a “state of heavy illness” in believing it had a right to influence the territories of the former Soviet Union.
“It’s the 21st century, but it looks like they still live in the Cold War era of last century when there were spheres of influence,” Shalkivskyi said.
Ukraine was grateful to its international partners including Australia for strong support for its sovereignty and territorial integrity, and for flagging further sanctions in case of any further intervention, Shalkivskyi said.
Earlier, Pavlovsky denied Moscow would be influenced by any further sanctions by Australia and its allies.
“By now I think it should be crystal clear to everybody that those sanctions, they just don’t work,” said Pavlovsky, who has been Russia’s ambassador to Australia since 2019.
“More than that, they damage the economies, companies, individuals, in the countries that impose such sanctions.”
Pavlovsky said it may be a “high price” for western countries to pay “just to make a gesture”. He said Russia did care about sanctions “but we do adapt”.
The Australian government says it is not planning to send troops or military assets to the region in the event of a conflict, but it has offered assistance to help Ukraine fend off cyber attacks.
On Monday the Australian government urged any Australian citizens to leave Ukraine immediately due to the deteriorating security situation.
Australia is considering supplying extra liquefied natural gas to Europe, after the US and the UK raised fears the continent’s reliance on Russian gas makes it vulnerable in the standoff with Putin.
The US upped the ante with a declaration that an invasion would endanger the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project, which is to carry gas from Russia to Germany via the Baltic Sea.
“If Russia invades Ukraine one way or another, Nord Stream 2 will not move forward,” the US state department spokesperson Ned Price told National Public Radio.
Germany’s foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, said she would prefer to “continue the dialogue” with Russia but not at any price.