The defence minister, Richard Marles, has condemned the latest nuclear threat from Russia as “appalling”, and says Australia is preparing to support Ukraine for a protracted military conflict.
Speaking on Sunday, the deputy prime minister said the threat from the Russian president Vladimir Putin last week to use the country’s nuclear arsenal as part of its ongoing war with Ukraine could “not be allowed to stand”.
“Certainly the comments cause anxiety, you can’t hide from that,” Marles told Sky News.
“We’ve heard the president make those threats before [and] they are appalling comments to make.
“It is clearly an appalling thing to do, to place that potential on the table.”
In a televised address to the nation last week, Putin said that Russia was positioning itself in response to the threat from the west, which “wants to destroy our country”, as he threatened to use the “various means of destruction” it had at its disposal.
“When the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, to protect Russia and our people, we will certainly use all the means at our disposal,” Putin said.
“It’s not a bluff.”
The comments sparked widespread condemnation and the threat of more sanctions from G7 countries, while the foreign minister, Penny Wong, suggested the government would consider the expulsion of the Russian ambassador in response.
Amid the escalation, Marles was also critical of Putin’s decision to mobilise 300,000 reservists, describing the move as “a step in completely the wrong direction.”
“Russia needs to stop and Russia needs to leave Ukraine,” he said. “I think the scenes that we’ve seen from Russia over the last few days, of people seeking to leave the country, of obvious distress for those being called up and being asked to serve in the Russian forces in respect of this says everything about where public opinion is actually at within Russia.”
Marles, who has recently met with officials from Nato countries in Europe, also said Australia would provide further and ongoing military assistance to Ukraine. It follows requests from the country’s ambassador for 30 more Bushmaster armoured vehicles, 30 Hawkei protected mobility vehicles and Howitzer missiles.
He said he would not yet reveal the details of Australia’s military commitment, but confirmed there would be additional support.
“What we understand is that Ukraine is going to need support over a long period of time,” Marles said. “That’s very much the sense when I was in Europe and speaking to Nato countries – Germany, UK, France – all of those countries are really steeling themselves for this being an effort which needs to be undertaken over a long period of time, and that the importance of standing with Ukraine and enabling Ukraine to be empowered to resolve this on their own terms is fundamentally important.
“Rest assured that we’re talking with the Ukrainian ambassador, talking with Ukrainian government, about the way in which Australia can be there and be there over the long term, because we get that this has all the potential to be a protracted conflict.”
Marles also rejected suggestions from the federal opposition that the delivery of Bushmaster vehicles to Ukraine had been delayed by red tape, saying the project schedule was “on time”.
“The Ukrainians are very appreciative with the speed with which Bushmasters have been delivered to Ukraine,” he said. “It’s not in Ukraine’s interest for us to make public what that delivery schedule is. But the delivery schedule is there. It’s on time and they’re getting those Bushmasters. And they’re having a really big impact.”