Scott Morrison warns of cyberattacks, announces visa extensions for Ukrainian citizens

The prime minister said processing the visas of Australians leaving Ukraine has become a top priority.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks to the media during a press conference at Kirribilli House, in Sydney,

Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Source: AAP / Bianca De Marchi

Australian businesses should brace for cyberattacks after new sanctions against Russia were announced, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has warned.

Mr Morrison on Thursday announced the government has taken an "enhanced cybersecurity posture" in anticipation of potential malicious cyber activity against Australian organisations.

"There has been a pattern of cyberattacks against Ukraine and that continues now," Mr Morrison told reporters.

While the government is not aware of any current or specific threats against Australian organisations so far, the Australian Cyber Security Centre has recommended all organisations become vigilant in protecting their online records.

Mr Morrison also announced visas for Ukrainian citizens living in Australia will be extended for a further six months as tensions continue to escalate in eastern Europe.

He has also placed "to the top of the pile" the remaining 430 outstanding visa applications of Australians attempting to leave Ukraine "as a matter of priority".

against Russia after it recognised the separatist regions of Donetsk and Luhansk in Ukraine as independent territories.

The sanctions will become law on Friday and they will take effect at the end of March.

"There must be a price for the unprovoked, unlawful, unwarranted, unjustified attacks and threats and intimidation that has been imposed by Russia on Ukraine," Mr Morrison said.

"There must be consequences for violent coercive and bullying behaviour.

"The suggestion that somehow Russian soldiers crossing the border and entering Ukraine is deeply offensive to anyone who has pulled on a uniform as a peacekeeper across the world.

"They're not peacekeepers. They're invaders."

It comes after Russia hit back at Australia after Mr Morrison announced sanctions, saying Canberra has been indifferent to discrimination faced by Russian speakers.

The Russian embassy has responded to the new measures, accusing Australia of turning a blind eye to discrimination by "the radical nationalistic regime in Ukraine and to the plight of civilians in Donbass living for years under blockade and constant shelling from the Ukrainian military".

"In alignment with its key partners, Canberra has played its part in supporting and encouraging the xenophobic bullies based in Kyiv."

In a statement, the embassy said the decision was made to recognise the Donetsk and Luhansk regions on humanitarian grounds to "protect" civilians, including hundreds of thousands of Russian nationals.

"[Russia] will from now on guarantee the right of [Donetsk and Luhansk] residents to live in peace and preserve their language and cultural identity."

Mr Morrison completely rejected Russia's characterisation of the two territories it occupies.

"We have got a very large country in Russia which is bullying and threatening its neighbour and telling them the decisions that they have to make," he told the Seven Network.

"This is not how the world should work ... when you have a country that is bullying and seeking to use force and threats of violence to get its own way."

Foreign Minister Marise Payne said it was an "obscene perversion" for Russian President Vladimir Putin to speak of Russian soldiers acting as "peacekeepers" in Ukraine.

"Any suggestions that there is a legitimate basis for Russia's actions are pure propaganda and disinformation," Senator Payne told reporters during a visit to the Czech Republic capital Prague.

She added Australia would not hesitate to impose more sanctions if Russia escalated tensions.

Overnight on Wednesday, Ukraine declared a state of emergency and told its citizens in Russia to leave while Russia began evacuating its embassy in Kyiv in the latest signs that a full-scale invasion could be imminent.

The head of the Ukrainian mission in Australia, Volodymyr Shalkivskyi, told the Nine Network on Thursday his country is on full alert.

"A full-scale invasion is possible. There is still the movement of Russian troops along our borders and, actually, build-up of those troops. We are getting ready," he said.

"There is still room for negotiations and we keep that door open."

Asked if he thought sanctions imposed by the United States, and others including Australia, would deter Mr Putin, Mr Shalkivskyi said, "You cannot use kind of normal logic when you consider the actions of Mr Putin".

"[Russia] has military superiority over Ukraine, it has nuclear weapons, at least, in their possession.

"But the consequences of full-scale invasion might be very dramatic for the entire world because, well, first of all, it's not going to be a one-day invasion. Ukraine will resist."

Mr Morrison spoke with his Ukrainian counterpart Denys Shmyhal on Wednesday night to inform him of the sanctions.

Mr Morrison told Mr Shmyhal that Russia's behaviour towards Ukraine was "unacceptable, unprovoked and unwarranted".

Australia has ruled out direct military assistance and is supporting Ukraine's cyber capability.

Russia's ambassador to Australia, Alexey Pavlovsky, was also hauled in to meet with the secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade on Wednesday afternoon following the announcement of the sanctions.

The diplomat has not been expelled from the country.

Additional reporting by Rayane Tamer.

5 min read
Published 24 February 2022 at 7:49am, updated 24 February 2022 at 12:46pm
Source: AAP, SBS