Australia’s delay in reopening Kyiv embassy questioned by national security experts

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Britain, the United States, France and Canada all reopened their much larger missions in April and May. The Australian Embassy is co-located with the Canadian Embassy.

Australia was the first of its key allies to close its embassy in Afghanistan, which angered some officials of Australia’s Secret Service, the overseas spy agency, as it meant they were losing their presence on the ground to gather vital intelligence.

While Kyiv is still hit by a Russian missile every few weeks, many like-minded countries have felt it safe to reopen their embassies since Russia appeared to back down on capturing the city more than two years ago. month.

A spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said the Australian government was “looking closely at when we can bring our embassy back to Kyiv”.

“As the Prime Minister said, Australia would like to have a presence on the ground in Ukraine,” the DFAT spokesperson said.

“There are a number of operational, safety and security issues to consider and we take all of those factors into account.”

Michael Shoebridge, defense program manager at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said the balance of risk had shifted in the Ukrainian capital.

“It’s certainly more dangerous than other parts of the world, but it seems safe enough to have an embassy there,” he said. “It is an essential element of solidarity with the Ukrainian people. If we are right and this conflict is going to spread, we need a presence that allows us to engage directly with the Ukrainians.

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Shoebridge said Canada and Australia would be rolling out similar risk assessments and “Canadians seem to have made the right decision.”

“It’s hard to see a reason why the Canadian risk assessment and ours are so different in their results. It is much easier to understand why Canadians reopened their embassy than to understand why we did not,” he said.

“We don’t want ‘first out, last back’ to be our brand. Australians are seen as committed international players and that means accepting risk.

“If you were in Baghdad during the surge of Iraq or in Afghanistan during the decades of this conflict, there was a pervasive insecurity that was much more evident – ​​and that’s just not the case in Kyiv.”

Hervé Lemahieu, director of research at the Lowy Institute, said it was always difficult to strike the right balance between protecting diplomatic personnel and letting them do their job, but “if you look at Australia’s decisions, we we tend to be more risk averse than other countries and I think sometimes that’s to our detriment”.

“Australia was one of the first Western countries to close its embassy in Kabul, and on the one hand you could say we had a lot of foresight – but on the other hand it would have been wiser to keep it. open longer and process all humanitarian visas,” he said.

“From what I understood, the closure of the embassy in Kabul was a real logistical obstacle to getting people out.

According to several current government sources, Australia has been considering whether to reopen the embassy in Ukraine for more than a month and some officials cannot understand why it cannot be reopened using security protocols similar to those of the Canada.

“One wonders why it’s taking so long,” said a senior government source, who is not authorized to speak publicly.

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Foreign diplomats who spoke on condition of anonymity also questioned the decision not to reopen.

Journalists for The Sydney Morning Herald and age recently spent almost a week in Kyiv and was able to move freely around the city. Almost all major international media outlets have journalists permanently based in Kyiv and regularly report on visits by foreign leaders.

Australian security agencies have taken a conservative approach to Albanese’s visit compared to trips made by other leaders in recent weeks.

While several international media reported Albanese’s visit in real time, the federal government imposed a 36-hour media blackout on Australian journalists traveling with the prime minister in Kyiv, who were told they could not take any electronic device into the country.

They were also told that unlike the prime minister’s previous visits to places like Afghanistan, a US-led coalition force is not in place to provide overall security.

Cut through the noise of federal politics with news, opinion and expert analysis from Jacqueline Maley. Subscribers can sign up for our weekly Inside Politics newsletter here.

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