Interview with Sharri Markson, Sky News

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The Hon Andrew Hastie MP

Assistant Minister for Defence

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Ella Kenny 0437 702 111

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6 March 2022

SHARRI MARKSON: Joining me now is the Assistant Defence Minister Andrew Hastie. Andrew, welcome to the programme.

THE HON ANDREW HASTIE MP, ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: Good evening, Sharri. Good to be with you.

SHARRI MARKSON: Now, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said he needs ammunition. This is finally happening, but we've just heard from people live in Ukraine, it is undoubtedly it's too late. Zelenskyy is now begging NATO for a no-fly zone over Ukraine, NATO has refused and there are concerns that this could escalate the conflict into a nuclear war. What's your view on this? Should there be a no-fly zone?

ANDREW HASTIE: Look, this is a European war with global consequences, but it's fundamentally European in character, so it's a challenge for NATO, and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has ruled out a no-fly zone. Secretary of State Blinken has also confirmed that as well. I understand why President Zelenskyy is asking for one, but I think the central challenge here is what would Vladimir Putin do if a no-fly zone were imposed and of course he's already said there will be colossal and catastrophic consequences not just for Europe, but for the world – hinting at the use of nuclear weapons. So, the risk here is escalation leading to nuclear conflict initiated by the Russians under Vladimir Putin so I can understand why they're not imposing a no-fly zone and our government, of course, supports NATO and our allies who are working around the clock to try and bring this conflict to a close.

SHARRI MARKSON: There is a level of frustration, though, clearly from the Ukrainian president, the Ukrainian people, that they had been begging Europe and NATO and the United States for months now to do more and that the help is coming too late. It's coming – this lethal aid, the deadly weapons – it's coming in the middle of a conflict when the war is already raging, and Putin already has the advantage. Do you understand this frustration that's being felt by the Ukrainian people?

ANDREW HASTIE: Of course. President Zelenskyy is the living embodiment of Ukrainian sovereignty and we appreciate the suffering they're going through – the innocent men, women, and children who are dying at the hands of Russians – I can understand exactly why he is frustrated. Australian aid – $105 million dollars of it, $70 million of lethal aid, ammunition and missiles – has arrived in Ukraine that was delivered by an Australian C-17. Of course, there is aid from all other countries around the world: Germany, of note, committed 1,000 Anti-Tank missiles, and also Stinger missiles. So, aid is coming. It is going to be a tough few days ahead as Benjamin Hall in your interview just before mine said, there's a lot of bombardment, the use of aerial weapons and indiscriminate targeting of buildings and people. It's a very tough time for Ukraine. But again, the risk of miscalculation here is huge. Putin himself miscalculated in invading Ukraine. He thought it would be over quickly. He didn't anticipate the level of resistance that he would receive from the Ukrainian people, nor the way he would galvanize NATO, Europe, and the rest of the world, liberal democracies, against Russia so quickly through financial and economic sanctions and the military aid. I mean, this is the first time the EU has given military support to a non-EU state. So, this is very, very significant and the world has fundamentally changed in the last week.

SHARRI MARKSON: When you talk about the calculation, it does, of course, seem that this is the calculation that has been made, that you know, we're not going to provide further support, whether its troops on the ground or a no-fly zone, because of the concern about what Putin might do and whether he might make good on his threat of a nuclear war, but could we eventually come to this conundrum again, in any case? I mean, President Biden made very clear in his State of the Union address this week that if Putin went further, went into a NATO country, then there would be a military response from the West. So do you think this is Putin's end game, and his ambitions are greater? And are we going to come to this point, this decision, this calculation, yet again, with a NATO country?

ANDREW HASTIE: I think we have to take Putin's word seriously. He said he was going to take action and he has: that's why we can't underestimate what he might do if pressured into a situation and he reaches for the nuclear button. So, we have to take him seriously, and that's why we're bolstering our NATO nations. That's why we're giving military aid to the Ukrainian people. That's why Germany has committed to spending year-on-year 2% of its GDP on defence, committing $110 billion to its defence. It's the end of German passivity. They are now actively looking after their defence and that of their NATO allies. So, Vladimir Putin has invaded Ukraine, the war is ongoing, but NATO is taking action to prepare itself against further aggression. The only thing that will stop Putin will be hard power.

SHARRI MARKSON: Hard power, exactly. I just want to ask you again about the role of China in all of this. China has, of course emerged as Russia's closest strategic partner in this war. What do you think this says about Beijing's ambitions in our region, and would Xi Jinping be emboldened by the West's lacklustre response so far?

ANDREW HASTIE: We know from the February 4 meeting between Putin and Xi Jinping in Beijing that they have entered into a no forbidden areas partnership. So, they are deeply enmeshed, strategically – two authoritarian powers – and I think Xi Jinping cares more about Vladimir Putin surviving this war than he does the indignation of the West. China itself is a revisionist and expansionist power, just like Russia, and so we have to prepare ourselves for potential action in Taiwan and elsewhere. That's why the Prime Minister in 2020 – when he gave the Defence Strategic Update speech at the Australian Defence Force Academy – mentioned the rise of authoritarian powers. That's why we're investing $270 billion dollars in strike capabilities to defend our sovereignty and to protect those of our neighbours.

SHARRI MARKSON: Yeah, very scary thought having to prepare for an invasion as well in Taiwan. Andrew Hastie, thank you very much for your time. Really appreciate it on this Sunday evening.

ANDREW HASTIE: Thanks, Sharri. Always a pleasure.


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